Symptoms and Treatment for Asthma Vary

Health Minute

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Asthma is a disease that affects the lungs. It causes repeated episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and nighttime or early morning coughing. Asthma can be controlled by taking medicine and avoiding the triggers that can cause an attack. Removing the triggers that worsen asthma can also help.

In most cases, the causes of asthma are unknown, as is the cure. Asthma often runs in families. It can be hard to tell if someone has asthma, especially in children under age 5. Having a doctor check the lungs and check for allergies can help diagnose asthma.

During a checkup, the doctor will ask if you cough a lot, especially at night, and whether breathing problems are worse after physical activity or at certain times of year. The doctor will also ask about chest tightness, wheezing, and colds lasting more than 10 days. It is important for the doctor to know whether anyone in your family has or has had asthma, allergies, or other breathing problems, and they will ask questions about your home. Tell your doctor if you have missed school or work and if you have trouble doing certain things.

The doctor will do a breathing test, called spirometry, to learn how well your lungs are working. The doctor will use a computer with a mouthpiece to test how much air you can breathe out after taking a very deep breath. The spirometer measures airflow before and after you use asthma medicine.

What’s An Asthma Attack?

An asthma attack may include coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. The attack happens in the paths that carry air to your lungs. As the air moves through your lungs, those paths or airways become smaller, like the tree branches are smaller than the tree trunk. During an asthma attack, the sides of the airways in your lungs swell and the airways shrink. Less air gets in and out of your lungs, and mucous that your body makes clogs up the airways even more. People have compared an asthma attack to trying to get the air you need from a cocktail straw.

You can control your asthma by knowing the warning signs of an asthma attack, avoiding things that cause an attack, and following your doctor’s advice. When you control your asthma:

  • you won’t have symptoms such as wheezing or coughing,
  • you’ll sleep better,
  • you won’t miss work or school,
  • you can take part in all physical activities, and
  • you won’t have to go to the hospital.

What Causes an Asthma Attack?

An asthma attack can happen when you are exposed to “asthma triggers.” Triggers vary from those of someone else with asthma.

Know your triggers and avoid them. Watch out for an attack when you can’t avoid the triggers. Some of the most common triggers are:

  • Breathing in cold, dry air
  • Cockroach allergen
  • Dust Mites - Don’t use down-filled pillows, quilts, or comforters.
  • Infections linked to flu, colds, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
  • Mold
  • Outdoor Air Pollution - Pay attention to air quality forecasts
  • Pets - Furry pets can trigger an asthma attack
  • Physical exercise
  • Secondhand smoke - people should never smoke near you
  • Smoke from burning wood or grass
  • Some medicines and foods
  • Strong emotions can lead to very fast breathing triggering an asthma attack
  • Tobacco smoke

Treating Asthma

Control your asthma and avoid an attack by taking your medicine exactly as your doctor says and by staying away from triggers.
Everyone with asthma does not take the same medicine. Some medicines can be breathed in, and some can be taken as a pill. Asthma medicines come in two types—quick-relief and long-term control. Quick-relief medicines control the symptoms of an asthma attack. If you need to use your quick-relief medicines more and more, talk to your doctor about a different medicine. Long-term control medicines help you have fewer and milder attacks, but they don’t help you while you are having an asthma attack.

Asthma medicines can have side effects, but most side effects are mild and soon go away. Ask your doctor about the side effects of your medicines.

Remember, you can control your asthma. With your doctor’s help, make your own asthma action plan. Decide who should have a copy of your plan and where to keep it. Take your long-term control medicine even when you don’t have symptoms.

Preventing Asthma Attacks

You can reduce asthma symptoms by avoiding known triggers and substances that irritate the airways.

  • Cover bedding with "allergy-proof" casings to reduce exposure to dust mites.
  • Remove carpets from bedrooms and vacuum regularly.
  • Use only unscented detergents and cleaning materials.
  • Keep humidity levels low and reduce the growth of mold.
  • Keep the house clean and keep food in containers and out of bedrooms -- this helps reduce the possibility of cockroaches, which can trigger asthma attacks in some people.
  • If a person is allergic to an animal that cannot be removed from the home, the animal should be kept out of the bedroom. Place filtering material over the heating outlets to trap animal dander.
  • Eliminate tobacco smoke from the home. This is the single most important thing to help a child with asthma. Smoking outside the house is not enough. Smokers carry smoke residue inside on their clothes and hair -- this can trigger asthma symptoms.

Talk to your doctor about possible asthma symptoms and the best treatment for you.

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.