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Trouble breathing? Find out if you've got asthma

(CNN) -- While some 17 million Americans have asthma -- including 5 million children -- experts say many don't even know it.

A quick trip down to the local mall might help you find out if you're one of them.

To help raise awareness of the potentially debilitating disease, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology is sponsoring free screenings throughout the United States over the next few months.

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 ASTHMA:
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    Source: WebMD
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    Most will be held in May at shopping centers, schools, churches and other locations to coincide with National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month.

    "The impact of asthma in this country is tremendous, and who we're targeting are people who have breathing problems and don't recognize they might have asthma," said Dr. John Winder, a Toledo, Ohio allergist who is chairman of the Nationwide Asthma Screening Program.

    Asthma is a chronic inflammation of the lungs' airways often brought on by allergies, infections or exercise. Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness. Treatments can include an inhaler or anti-inflammatory medication.

    "The big thing is recognition," Winder said.

    Doctors will discuss test results

    Screening participants are asked to complete a 20-question "Life Quality Test," which comes in three versions, including one for parents of children ages 1 to 8 and another for children 8 to 14.

    Among the questions: Do you have trouble sleeping through the night without a coughing attack or shortness of breath? Do you make wheezing sounds in your chest?

    Screening participants also take a breathing test by blowing into a tube hooked up to a computer, then meet with a physician to discuss the results.

    Of the 30,000 people the program has screened in the last five years, about half have been referred for more medical advice.

    The program is funded by an educational grant from AstraZeneca, a pharmaceutical company.



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    RELATED SITES:
    Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Online
    WebMD - Asthma
    AstraZeneca

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