Asthma-related costs can seriously impact an underprivileged family, but proper asthma care can greatly decrease the economic burden, according to study findings from Brazil.

As Dr. Rosana Franco, of the Universidade Federal da Bahia, told Reuters Health, "Family costs of severe asthma consumed over one-fourth of the family income," before a state-funded asthma treatment program began.

This annual burden declined to 2 percent among families of asthma patients who completed one year of free treatment at a local asthma center, Franco and her colleagues report in the journal Allergy.

Franco's group registered 197 patients, who had continuous asthma symptoms for an average of 25 years, in the Program for Control of Asthma and Allergic Rhinitis in Bahia. The patients, 84 percent female, were about 45 years old on average.

The participants had a median family income of $2955 per year in U.S. currency, and 47 percent of them attributed at least one job loss to their own or a family member's asthma.

After one year of free medications, as well as specialized care in asthma management and the use of medications, the 180 patients still participating in the program had markedly improved asthma symptoms and management.

Overall, patients increased their regular inhaled corticosteroid use from 37 to 100 percent, and their average visits to asthma specialists from zero to nine per year. Participants also showed improved lung function and reported markedly better quality of life.

Franco and her associates also report a reduction in annual emergency room visits, from 36 to 1, and a 75 percent decline in school or work absences among participants.

Moreover, improved asthma management resulted in an annual financial benefit of $1500 on average. The researchers cite a decline of $789 in direct asthma costs, such as for medications, as well as an income increase of $711 as family members were able to work more.

These findings highlight how free asthma treatment and management programs for low-income families "generate great clinical improvement and major economic benefits," Franco's team concludes.