With a primary focus on education, Asthma Magazine was launched to bring increased awareness of disease management strategies to asthmatics.

The creators of Newton, Mass-based Asthma Magazine—Strategies for Taking Control search the world for the latest information on asthma prevention and treatment. Every 2 months, that information is distilled and presented in the form of educational tips and articles to help asthmatics cope with their disease on a day-to-day basis.

Editor-in-chief Rachel Butler is an asthmatic herself. She knows about managing the disease that affects an estimated 17 million people every year in the United States. Butler’s incentive to launch the magazine started in earnest when doctors diagnosed her 2-year-old son with asthma. By the age of 4, Butler’s son had visited the emergency department countless times and had been hospitalized twice.

In dealing with her son’s severe asthma, Butler found existing information either lacking or inadequate. “Some pamphlets and newsletters were available, but they didn’t give me the sort of intricate information and in-depth material that I really needed,” Butler says. “Most of them were ‘What is asthma?’ pieces, and I was way beyond that.”

From the beginning, she believed the magazine format was an ideal way to share information in an entertaining, timely, and digestible format. Teaming up with biotechnology consultant (and now publisher) John Ross, they published the inaugural issue in 1996.

Communication Is Key
“People often ask me, ‘How can there be so much information about asthma?’ It is then that I know those people don’t have asthma,” Butler says. “I find that even now with my son, it can be extremely difficult to control. Asthma is a tricky disease to control even when you’re well informed, and unfortunately many people are not very well informed, sometimes even doctors.”

Butler hopes readers will use Asthma Magazine (AM) to maintain an open dialogue with their physicians. In a boxed section near the front of the magazine called “How To Use This Magazine,” she warns readers not to change their approach to asthma management without first discussing the change with their physicians. To encourage dialogue, a glossary near the back of the magazine helps them learn basic asthma terms.

“One woman I spoke to recently had her daughter taking albuterol via nebulizer four times a day. Her daughter was bouncing off the walls and not sleeping through the night. Her doctor scheduled an appointment to see her in February of the following year,” Butler says. “I can’t give medical advice, but I can certainly advise her to make an appointment sooner than February.”

A Focus on Prevention
Butler and Ross are not physicians and they must constantly walk the line between offering medical advice and encouraging dialogue through patient education. “I probably know more about asthma from a practical standpoint than some doctors, but obviously not as much from a chemical or biological standpoint,” Butler says. “People with asthma can have an exacerbation at any time, but through education, proper treatment, and preventive measures, it can be controlled.”

Butler relishes the opportunity to pass on her wisdom and contribute to the national asthma dialogue. AM has been instrumental in highlighting the benefits of preventive treatment, an area that Butler says many generalists overlook. “The biggest problem I see is that people aren’t getting preventive treatment,” Butler says. “There are too many doctors who are afraid of inhaled steroids, who are trying to treat asthma with bronchodilators alone.”

Butler’s son got progressively worse after 2 years of bronchodilators. “I went to the doctor and shared information about steroids. The doctor was great—we tried steroids and it changed our lives,” Butler recalls. “Six years later, one would think that inhaled corticosteroids would be more broadly accepted, but they still have a bad rap. Doctors worry about side effects and so do patients, but again I think these concerns come from not being fully aware of the benefits of preventive asthma treatments.”

Sharing new information with physicians can be intimidating for some patients, and Butler acknowledges that some doctors are wary of patients who have done “a little reading.” In a recent editor’s note about corticosteroids, Butler encourages her readers to bring AM to their health care providers to help them discuss asthma treatment.

Butler says a warped perception of asthma control is partially to blame for the lack of wide acceptance for preventive measures. AM helps define healthy asthma control by warning asthmatics about the dangers of ignoring or compensating for a worsening condition. Butler reminds her readers that most asthmatics can live symptom free with good preventive care. She hopes this message will ultimately improve the quality of life for asthma sufferers.

According to Butler, the second biggest problem is physicians’ failure to properly diagnose patients with asthma. “There is a large group of people with asthma who are not getting diagnosed properly. It may have to do with doctors wanting to spare patients from having it on their records for insurance purposes,” Butler says. “Doctors give asthma symptoms all sorts of names, but what they’re often describing is actually asthma. Once the disease is diagnosed, patients can become educated about it, and obtain the correct treatment.”

Just the Facts
With so much information available through the media and other sources, it is important to AM to obtain the most current and up-to-date information for each issue. AM generally runs four main features and at least four departments. Of those four features, it provides one general interest article such as “Why Is Asthma Rising at Such a Rapid Rate?” This consistent format and editorial criteria help cement reader loyalty.

In other articles, Butler focuses on the practical day-to-day realities of living and dealing with asthma. “I really try to emphasize something that can be put to use immediately,” Butler says. “There is a strong focus on education that can be used right away in someone’s life.”

In the beginning, Butler drew from her own experiences and generated most of the articles from those ideas. As the magazine gained circulation (currently 65,000), so have the submissions from professional freelance writers and physicians.

As an educational tool , being selected by the acclaimed National Jewish (NJ) Medical and Research Center, Denver, AM’s visibility should increase even more. “NJ is involved in the Children’s Asthma Management Program (CAMP)—a study of more than 1,000 children in five locations around the country,” Butler says. “It is the largest child asthma study and AM is being used as its primary source of education.”

As visibility and circulation increase, so does the interest of potential advertisers. As a for-profit, highly specialized niche magazine, AM is constantly seeking to increase advertising while maintaining the integrity of its editorial content. “We publish unbiased information that can be difficult to obtain, because so much information is produced or sponsored by drug companies,” Butler says. “While we certainly accept advertising from pharmaceutical companies, in no way does that affect the editorial content.”

A Diverse Audience
In the United States, it is estimated that nearly 6 million children suffer from asthma. This number has been steadily increasing and some experts say the illness accounts for more than 10 million lost school days per year. In addition to the large amount of pediatric cases, adults are accounting for more new asthma cases. In response to this demand, AM has begun a new department called “Mature Matters,” provided by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, which focuses on the unique issues faced by older adults and seniors.

“We have a large group of parents, because there is a larger percentage of children who have asthma than adults, but it’s growing in all sectors,” Butler says. “We constantly hear people saying, ‘I’m shocked—I’m 55 years old and have never had physical problems and suddenly I have asthma.’ They’re often slow to be diagnosed because they think this loss of lung function is just a natural result of aging. Sometimes, either doctors are not diagnosing asthma accurately or patients are not going to see their physicians to get the help they need.”

Health plans and professionals can use AM as an aid to keep up with the fast-paced world of asthma research and treatment options. “Respiratory therapists (RTs) use AM quite a bit with their patients. The RTs in one large health plan carrier in this area distributes AM, not because they are instructed to, but because they believe the wealth of information is invaluable,” Butler says. “Doctors don’t often have time to provide necessary asthma education. RTs have more time, but usually not enough to really educate their patients. AM has so much background information on trigger avoidance and managing medications that we think it fills that void.”

Readers in the United States can call (800) 527-3284 to receive a 1-year subscription (six magazines) for $19.95, or purchase a single issue for $3.95. “We have a network of doctor’s offices that place brochures in their offices and that’s been a good source of new subscribers,” Butler says. “We also have an alliance for education with the American Lung Association and it actively distributes AM through its 100 local offices.”

Greg Thompson is associate editor of RT Magazine.