What is asthma?
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that makes breathing difficult for nearly 26 million Americans. There is no cure for asthma; however, its symptoms are treatable.
How does asthma affect me?
Asthma causes the airways of the lungs to become extra sensitive to some things that you are exposed to in the environment every day. Once you breathe in a trigger, your lung airways create extra mucus and swell even more, making it hard to breathe.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of asthma can range from rather uncomplicated to severe. You may have rare asthmatic episodes on occasion, mild episodes every now and then, or you may have severe symptoms every day. You may experience tightness in your chest, wheezing, shortness of breath, or coughing. Your symptoms may be worse at night. It’s important that you recognize these signs and discuss them with your provider so you can be symptom-free, active, and healthy.
Understanding your asthma symptoms and exposure triggers is a key factor in better managing your asthma. Making a plan to avoid and/or limit the amount of exposure to your asthma triggers can eliminate asthma symptoms and put you on a better track of controlling your asthma experiences.
Asthma risk factors
A combination of genetics and exposure to certain elements in the environment increases a person’s chances of developing asthma. How can you prevent asthma attacks? Certain things can make asthma symptoms worse. These are called triggers. When you are around a trigger, an asthma attack is more likely.
Common triggers include:
- Cigarette smoke or air pollution.
Allergens that affect you:
- Pollen, mold, or dust mites.
- Pet hair, skin, or saliva.
- Illnesses, like colds, flu, or pneumonia.
- Exercise and/or dry, cold air.
Here are some ways to avoid a few common triggers:
- Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you. If you need help quitting, discuss options with your provider.
- Be wary of allergens that may affect you. If there is a lot of pollution, pollen, or dust outside, stay indoors, and keep your windows closed. Use an air filter in your home. Check your local weather report or newspaper for air quality and pollen reports.
- Get the flu vaccine every year. Talk to your doctor about getting a pneumococcal shot.
- Avoid exercising outdoors in cold weather.
- When exercising, know your limits. If your asthma is exercise-induced, then avoid strenuous workouts in favor of more moderate ones.
How is asthma diagnosed?
To diagnose asthma, your doctor will evaluate your symptoms, ask you to complete a health history, conduct a physical exam, perform a spirometry test, and may order a chest X-ray depending upon spirometry test results.
How is asthma treated?
Asthma treatment is divided into two parts, with both short term and long term methods of controlling your symptoms.
- Short term treatment revolves around identifying and managing more immediate symptoms. Treat asthma attacks when they occur. The asthma action plan tells you what to do when you have an asthma attack. It helps you identify triggers that can cause your attacks. You use quick-relief medicine during an attack.
- Long term care aims to attack the causes of your asthma. The asthma action plan tells you which medicine you may need to take every day. This is called a controller medicine. It helps to reduce the swelling of the airways and prevent asthma attacks. Should allergic asthma remain uncontrolled on a controller medicine, Xolair may be prescribed.
The asthma plan also helps you track your symptoms and know how well the treatment is working.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to schedule and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems.
Vaccinations and those with asthma
Those diagnosed with asthma are at a greater risk for serious complications from influenza and pneumonia. As a precaution to better protect yourself against the flu you should be immunized every year. The seasonal flu virus changes slightly every year, this is a good reason to get yourself vaccinated every season. The pneumonia vaccine is important to get at least once, and sometimes a booster shot.