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Asthma Symptoms and Treatment

Asthma Symptoms and Treatment.

Understanding asthma symptoms is the first step in managing your asthma and arranging asthma treatment.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, 2,279,568 people in California had asthma.  That’s nearly 8% of the overall population.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that is characterized by spasms in the airways.

A chronic disease is defined as a disease that persists for a long time, one that lasts 3 months or more is typically defined as a chronic disease.

Generally a chronic disease cannot be cured by medication, prevented by vaccinations nor do they disappear by themselves.  Examples of other chronic diseases are heart disease, diabetes and arthritis

Asthma causes your bronchial tubes, (airways) to become highly sensitive to a number of agents and allergens, eventually leading to difficulty in breathing among other symptoms (such as an asthma attack).

Asthma can affect people of all ages. It typically starts in childhood and may continue all the way through adulthood. In the United States alone, there are more than 25 million documented cases of asthma. Out of these cases, about 7 million are children.  The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology has more detail about asthma symptoms in children here.

What causes asthma is unknown and there is no known cure.

We do understand what triggers asthma and the team at Baz Allergy, Asthma and Sinus Center are experts in creating an asthma management plan to prevent asthma attacks by avoiding common triggers. You can schedule an appointment with one of our doctors by contacting the office nearest you.

Asthma Symptoms

Asthma causes the lining of your airway to become highly sensitive and can cause your airway to become inflamed and swell.  In this hyperly sensitive and inflamed state, certain “triggers” may cause annoying or potentially medically harmful symptoms.

These symptoms can include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath and trouble breathing
  • Tightness of the chest

Other, less typical asthma symptoms may include;

  • Chronic coughing without wheezing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Difficulty exercising, also called “exercise induced asthma”
  • Sleeping problems, also called “nighttime asthma”
  • Ill at ease or anxiety
  • Always tired – fatigue
  • Concentration difficulties

What are the different types of asthma?

Asthma manifests or presents itself in many different ways. For example, there is asthma that manifests itself as a chronic cough, there is a type that is triggered by various factors in the patient’s workplace, and there is one that is triggered by allergic reactions, among others. Most variants are different in many ways from the severe or life threatening asthma – causes serious respiratory problems and in some severe cases, death.

  • Cough-Variant Asthma

This variant is characterized by a dry cough. It is usually undertreated because it usually goes undiagnosed most of the time. It is therefore advisable to visit a doctor in case of a persistent cough.

  • Occupational Asthma

Exposure to a number of chemicals or fumes in the workplace may induce or worsen asthma. Control and management of asthma triggers in the workplace is important for any asthma patients.

  • Allergic Asthma

Allergic reactions have been known to worsen the symptoms of asthma. A patient suffering from allergic asthma can manage the condition by avoiding allergens such as the ones mentioned earlier.

  • Exercise Induced Asthma

Vigorous exercise can worsen asthma symptoms. However, with proper monitoring and treatment, patients suffering from exercise-induced asthma can take part in many physical activities.

  • Nighttime Asthma

It is not uncommon for asthma to worsen during the night. In nighttime asthma, the inflammation in the airways becomes worse at night. This can however be managed by treating and eliminating the fundamental causes.

What Is An Asthma Attack?

The bronchial tube is the airway that passes air to your lungs.  When the muscles surrounding your bronchial tubes become tense and constrict, it becomes more narrow and abnormally thick mucus is created.  This often makes breathing very difficult.   When this happens to people with asthma, it is known as an asthma attack.

Asthma attack symptoms typically appear in one or more of the following ways:  

  • Increased wheezing when inhaling and exhaling
  • Constant coughing
  • High breathing rate
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Retraction – tensed chest and neck muscles
  • Difficulty when talking
  • Panic or a feeling of anxiety
  • A pale and sweaty face
  • Blue fingernails and/or lips
  • In severe cases, symptoms worsen even when relief medication is administered

Mild or less severe asthma attacks are more common than severe attacks and many patients can go for long periods without experiencing an attack or any symptoms that cause concern.

In mild asthma attacks, the patient experiences some relief within a short time since the airways usually open up just a few minutes or a few hours after treatment.  Mild attacks are usually not a cause for great concern.  Your asthma doctor can prescribe appropriate medication such as a quick-acting inhaler to take during an attack to help you recover from the symptoms quickly.

Severe asthma attacks on the other hand are less common and more dangerous. They last longer and symptoms may be much more severe.  These types of asthma attacks require immediate medical intervention which may include a visit to the nearest emergency room.

More info on asthma attacks from the Mayo Clinic’s website here.

Asthma triggers

What causes asthma attacks to occur?

Asthma attacks usually occur when the patient has been exposed to certain allergens or triggers that cause the airways to swell and produce abnormally thick mucus. Some of the agents and factors that have been known to trigger asthma attacks include:

  • Respiratory infections or viruses such as the common cold, the flu, sinus infections or pneumonia. More on respiratory infections on the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America website
  • Exposure to airborne pollutants and allergens such as
    • Pollen
    • Dust mites
    • Smoke from wildfires, charcoal fires
    • Mold
    • Cigarette smoke
    • Animal dander
    • Air pollution (smog & ozone)
    • Strong fumes such as gasoline, paint, even perfumes
  • Strenuous exercise can trigger an asthma attack particularly when the weather is cold and dry
  • Sensitivity to certain medicines have been known to trigger asthma attacks
  • Other triggers that have been known to cause attacks:
    • Certain food additives such as sulfites
    • Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle
    • Weather – cold and dry weather have been known to trigger attacks

Is Asthma Curable?

Although asthma is a disease that can be significantly controlled, it has no known cure. The disease never goes away completely even with medication. This could probably be because there are different variants of the condition and no single cure can suit them all effectively.

The treatments available today give most asthma patients enough resources to manage the condition to a point where they can go about their daily lives with little to no worry.

What type of doctor treats asthma?

This is a good question, many people start with their family doctor.  Family doctors are often internists who are skilled in making initial diagnoses and, where appropriate, refer their patients to specialists better trained in treating specific diseases.

Allergists are trained to treat allergies and asthma.  Many asthma cases are allergic asthma meaning that the patient suffers from asthma due to an allergic reaction.  Physicians who specialize in treating patients with allergies, also called Allergists, are best suited to diagnose asthma triggers and create an asthma management plan specifically for each patient’s unique needs.

Monitoring Air Flow

Asthma symptoms restrict the amount of air passed through the bronchi, or the airway, your doctor may instruct you to measure and track the rate of airflow you can expel, or breathe out, from your lungs.

Understanding this rate of airflow, also called the Peak Expiratory Flow Rate, over time can provide valuable information for managing asthma and can be an important part of your asthma action plan.

Peak Expiratory Flow Rate is measured with a device called the Peak Flow Meter.   An asthma patient blows into this device and the peak expiratory flow rate is measured.

Using a peak flow meter, your physician will help you measure your personal best peak expiratory flow.  That number can be used as a baseline number in an asthma management plan to help you have a better understanding of your disease.

Peak flow meters come in many styles from many manufacturers. A patient’s technique measuring air flow may differ which can lead to a high degree of variability in results.   For these reasons, many asthma patients may not benefit from the use of a peak flow meter.  The components of your personal asthma action plan and whether a peak flow meter is included will be up to your doctor to determine.

Here’s an informative video on the usage of a peak flow meter.

Your Role in Asthma Management

Although managing asthma is in a major part the responsibility of the patient, this may not always be possible especial when the patient is a child. In such a situation, a guardian or caregiver will be required to ensure that the patient’s environment is free of any allergens or triggers and that all the recommend medications are administered appropriately.

In adult asthma patients, the patient will need to keep track of the medicines and any signs that may indicate that he or she is about to experience an attack. This is very important since during severe attacks the patient may be of little or no use to themselves.

Close monitoring of the disease will help reduce attacks and keep the condition manageable. When one detects any signs of an impending attack, he or she should immediately activate the plan of action recommended by the physician in order to ensure that they are not subjected to any life threatening situations. Mild asthma attacks can be best managed with the help of a second or even third person.

Baz Allergy Asthma and Sinus Center has been treating patients in the California central valley for over 30 years.  Our board certified physicians are highly trained asthma doctors who can help design the best asthma management plan for you.

To learn more contact the office nearest you to schedule a consultation with an asthma specialist.

Asthma Medications

The best medication for an asthma patient depends on a number of factors such as the patient’s age, the triggers, the symptoms, and the methods that work best to manage it. Asthma medication can be classified as quick relief and long-term management medications.

Quick Relief medications:

These are administered as needed to offer quick relief during attacks. They work by opening swollen airways in order to ease breathing. In cases where an attack has been triggered by an allergic reaction, quick relief medicines may be administered together with allergy medication.

The most common types of quick relief medications include:

  • Short-acting bronchodilators

These are usually administered with nebulizers and portable inhalers so that the patient inhales the medicine through a mouthpiece or a facemask.

  • Ipratropium

Ipratropium works similarly to other short-acting bronchodilators. It acts fast to relax the patient’s airways and improve breathing.

  • Intravenous And Oral Corticosteroids

As the names suggest, these medications are administered orally or intravenously to offer quick relief for symptoms.

A number of quick relief medications can cause serious side effects if used long-term, in case a patient has any doubts or questions he or she should seek the input of a qualified physician.

 

Long Term Control or Preventive Medication:

These medications are normally administered daily. Preventive medications form a crucial part of asthma treatment and management. They work to reduce inflammation on a daily basis in order to reduce the patient’s chances of an attack.

The following are the common types of preventive medications.

  • Inhaled long acting bronchodilators
  • Theophylline; this is a pill that is administered daily. It keeps the airways open by calming the muscles around them.
  • Inhaled corticosteroids
  • A combination of inhalers
  • Leukotriene inhibitors modifiers; these help to relieve the symptoms for about 24 hours

 

Baz Allergy, Asthma and Sinus Center

We have offices in the Fresno area, up and down the California central valley and the Bay Area.  Our physicians are board certified and highly trained in asthma management and look forward to helping our patients enjoy life fully.