Asthma is a disease of chronic inflammation affecting your airway marked by periodic attacks of wheezing and difficulty breathing. Inflammation is present whether or not you have mild, moderate or severe asthma. Most common symptoms in asthma are shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and mucus production. 25-30% of children who have asthma, only coughs and/or wheezes with exercise or at night.
When does asthma occur?
Although asthma can occur at any age, it most commonly occurs in children 5 years of age or younger and in adults in their mid 20’s to 30’s. Only 10% of new asthma suffers are 65 or older. Asthma also runs in families. Science has yet to identify an exact gene. What we do know is that if one of your parents has allergies or asthma you will more than likely have some type of asthma or allergy. If both of your parents have asthma or allergies the likelihood of you having the condition is further increased. Parents or family members who smoke are more likely to have children who develop asthma. It is also known that 80% of asthma suffers also have allergies.
Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways and can be triggered by a number of different things.
Common asthma triggers include:
- Pollen, dust mites, mold, feathers, animal dander and some foods
- Smoke, dirt, gases and odor
- Colds, flu or other illnesses
- Cold, windy weather or sudden weather changes
Do you have asthma?
- Do you cough, wheeze or experience tightness in your chest at night?
- Do you cough, wheeze or experience tightness in your chest with exercise?
- Do you cough, wheeze or experience tightness in your chest when exposed to cold?
- Do you cough, wheeze or experience tightness in your chest seasonally?
- Do you cough, wheeze or experience tightness in your chest when exposed to perfume, animals, smoke, or grass?
- Do you get colds that are in your chest and take 2 or more weeks to go away?
- Do you use any kind of inhalers or medication to help you breathe?
If you answer YES to any of these questions you may have asthma. Check with your physician or allergist to confirm the diagnosis in order to live a healthy normal life.
Asthma many times goes undiagnosed especially in children who experience wheezing when they get sick with a cold or a respiratory infection of some kind. More than likely they are said to have bronchitis or pneumonia. In a child’s early development their airway is smaller. As they grow, the airway gets larger and they no longer wheeze. However, allergic infants continue wheezing? Some children even seem to outgrow it for a few years. The asthma never really disappeared it just became dormant. Asthma should be taken seriously. If your child has been diagnosed with asthma, do everything you can to treat the condition. Untreated asthma can change your child’s airway and cause permanent lung damage.
What really is happening?
Normal breathing function is to bring air in and out of your lungs freely. People with asthma have airways that narrow down because of:
- Inflammation & swelling of the bronchi or “lung tube”
- Tightening of the airway muscle
- Excess production of mucus, which clogs the airway
Net results of these changes are that it makes airways narrow and makes breathing difficult. These changes cause wheezing similar to trying to breathe through a small straw.
To identify if your asthma is triggered by allergies, an allergist can do testing by either skin testing or blood testing (R.A.S.T. testing)
Once allergens are identified the best thing to do is to avoid the allergens. If you are allergic to cats remove the cat from your house. If you are allergic to dust mites take dust mite precautions.
Presently there is a lot of research being conducted to bring asthma medications to the market. There is no cure for asthma. However, with appropriate treatment, asthma suffers can live a satisfying and high quality of life.
There are two classes of medication: maintenance/long term and rescue/quick relief.
Maintenance/Long Term Medications: These medications help maintain control of your asthma symptoms. What we want to accomplish is to prevent and or reverse inflammation (narrowing) of you airways. These medications can actually help reduce asthma suffers sensitivity in their airways from triggers & irritants.
Rescue/Quick Relief Medications: These medications treat acute symptoms and exacerbation’s (quick onset of an asthma attack). Bronchodilators open the airways by relaxing muscles that constrict around your airways during an asthma attack.
The hallmark of asthma treatment is meter dose inhalers or MDI’s. The reason they are so beneficial is because the medication is delivered directly to the sight where it is needed. For inhalers to work properly, they must be used correctly. More than half of the people using an inhaler do not use them correctly.
Your role in managing your asthma?
Education and learning about asthma is the key to helping yourself live a high quality of life with asthma. Education can teach you; how to identify your individual triggers, how to use your MDI correctly, and how each one of your medications work to help control your asthma symptoms. Also, it is imperative that you become an active asthma partner with your physician rather than a silent patient in your treatment plan for controlling your asthma and preventing symptoms and acute attacks.
Managing & Monitoring Your Asthma
- Identify and avoid your personal triggers
- Know how your medications work
- Take them as prescribed by your physician
- Recognize early signs of worsening of your asthma symptoms
- Know what to do when your asthma is worsening
- Be an active partner with your physician in controlling your asthma in order to live a quality life
- Sleeping difficulty
- Breathing difficulty
Asthma is a chronic disease therefore you and your physician can benefit from routinely monitoring your lung function using a simple tool called a Peak flow meter. A peak flow meter is a device that can be used to check your lung function or peak expiratory flow rate. You just blow into the device to check your peak expiratory flow. PEF is a measurement of the amount of air forced out of your lungs when you exhale. A daily record could possibly detect a narrowing or tightening in your airways and be an early warning sign of a worsening of your asthma.
A Spirometry test can also be conducted by your physician to get a complete measurement of your lung function.