Asthma is a leading killer of American children—it claims 5,000 lives a year—and it’s especially hard on the poor. Brooklyn and the Bronx have some of the highest rates of the disease in the country. Yet those who suffer from asthma, and related allergies and sinus conditions, often receive inferior medical treatment. Dr. Jordan Josephson aims to fix that.
A 46-year-old specialist in otolaryngology at the Manhattan Eye, Ear & Throat Hospital (and an asthmatic and allergy sufferer himself), Josephson recently founded snif (Sinus and Nasal International Foundation), the world’s first organization devoted to providing comprehensive medical education for people with asthma, sinusitis, and allergies.
Too often, an asthma attack is treated as an isolated incident, says Josephson: “You have areas where the indigent live, in buildings that are sick, near causeways where there are tons of fumes. Those patients go to the emergency room on their deathbed and get a Band-Aid. Doctors throw them an antihistamine or antibiotic until the next episode.” Similarly, people with allergies and sinus conditions are treated for acute symptoms, then sent on their way. As a result, they often suffer chronic discomfort and lead unnecessarily limited lives. “Many can’t breathe when they go out, or are so tired from sleeping poorly that they can barely work.”
Worse, their underlying disease goes untreated. Even when patients can afford good health care, their doctors don’t often communicate across disciplines, says Josephson: “You go to a pulmonologist about asthma, and he’s not really concerned about your nose. But the nose is the other end of the lungs. You have to treat the entire patient.”
Besides treating their own patients, snif’s global team of specialists, from allergists to acupuncturists, will standardize treatment protocols and take part in community and patient education, encouraging people to recognize and avoid the environmental causes of asthma, such as household dust and fumes. Soon, they’ll offer real-time Internet Q&A sessions for sufferers.
Happily, says Josephson—an endoscopic sinus surgeon who, in his own practice, treats cases that can’t be helped by standard approaches—much can be done for patients when they’re treated properly. “I’ve had people who’ve gone through surgeries, have been prescribed all manner of drugs,” he says, “but when we give them the proper care, maybe different drugs, a better surgery, their lives change. They say, ‘Oh, God, I never knew I could feel like this.’ ”