"Ice bucket challenge" raises millions for ALS

Physicians at at Neurology Inc. in Columbia take part in the "Ice bucket challenge."

The "Ice bucket challenge" that's sweeping social media has raised $9.5 million for the ALS Association in just over two weeks.

During the same period last year, July 29 to August 15, the ALS Association received $1.6 million.

So what exactly is ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease?

"It causes degeneration of the muscles, the peripheral nerves," Dr. James Koch, of Boone Hospital affiliated Neurology Inc. in Columbia, said.

"The exact cause is unknown, it's thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors."

Eventually, ALS limits voluntary muscle action including chewing and swallowing.

"When it becomes more and more advanced, people go into respiratory failure, and ultimately this can lead to death," Koch said.

Early onset symptoms include muscle weakness in the limbs and muscle shrinkage. Koch says on average it takes a year from the first symptoms until diagnosis, and after diagnosis people typically live just two-to-four years.

"Historically people who get it are usually in their 50's to 70's, but I've seen people as early as their young 20's and as old as their mid 90's who've been diagnosed with it," Koch said.

He added that it's slightly more common in men than women, but ALS is pretty universal.

There is no cure for ALS and there is only one FDA-approved drug available for treatment. That drug just improves quality of life, not necessarily length.

That's why awareness and funds for research are so important. The "Ice bucket challenge" encourages people to either douse themselves with freezing water or donate to an ALS charity of their choice. Many people who accept the challenge also donate.

"The future of ALS is just providing more public awareness and providing financial support for research so we can develop more effective treatment and hopefully one day a cure," Koch said.