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Zap Those Allergens
Excerpt By Janice Billingsley, HealthScoutNews

Cuba Gooding Jr. has stared down more than a few bad guys in his string of Hollywood hits.

Now you can add childhood asthma to the list.

The 34-year-old actor plays an action character in a new CD-ROM game designed to help kids with asthma control their disease.

"Quest for the Code," for children ages 7 to 15, sends them on an interactive mission to "kill" asthma villains like mold and smoke. It also teaches them how to recognize their asthma symptoms, measure their lung functioning and take their medication properly.

"If you make the child a part of the team, you have a much better outcome," says Dr. Gary Rachelefsky, a Los Angeles pediatric asthma specialist who was the consultant for the game. "No matter what the age, if the patient isn't brought into the process, the treatment will be ineffective."

Research shows that involving children in the management of their asthma can greatly reduce their hospital visits.

Rachelefsky points to successful self-management programs like Asthma Care Training for Kids (ACT). They've been used by approximately 10,000 children, and have decreased hospitalization and emergency room visits by 40 percent, and decreased patients' symptoms such as coughing and wheezing by 60 percent.

"But these are formal programs that need referrals and are not inexpensive," he says.

The CD-ROM, in contrast, is being distributed for free through the Home Shopping Network. It was created by the STARBRIGHT Foundation, which is "dedicated to the development of projects that empower seriously ill children to combat the medical and emotional challenges they face on a daily basis." Funding for the game came from drug maker GlaxoSmithKline.

Rachelefsky plans to have several computers in his office waiting room so children can play the game there. There are 100,000 copies of the CD, which is available in English and Spanish.

Asthma is the most common chronic illness among American children, the leading cause of school absenteeism attributed to chronic conditions, and the primary cause of hospitalizations for children under 15 years of age.

Nearly 8 million American children have been diagnosed with asthma, according to the American Lung Association. And the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that prevalence of the disease increased by 160 percent from 1980 to 1994.

The CD-ROM game, which also includes voice-overs by a range of celebrities from Gwyneth Paltrow to Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, has three goals, Rachelefsky says.

"First is to establish that asthma is a chronic illness, and that the triggers like coughing or wheezing are simply the end result of a chronic inflammatory process, which is present all the time," he says.

Second is to emphasize that "children have the capacity to make their own decisions in managing their asthma," like knowing to stay away from a smoker, and taking their medication 10 or 15 minutes before exercising.

Third is to teach them about the asthma triggers that exist at home, school and elsewhere, so they have the knowledge to manage them.

Rachelefsky wants children to understand that "asthma is controllable, and that no child should ever be limited by the disease."

Dr. Christine Fusillo, director of pediatric allergy at the Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y., calls the CD-ROM game "a good idea."

Self-management of asthma has been shown to be effective, and children of this age are computer-savvy and like to play games," she says. "For kids, it's an appropriate way to at least try to reach them."

What To Do

For a free copy of "Quest for the Code," visit the STARBRIGHT Foundation. To learn more about childhood asthma, check with The American Lung Association.

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