What is Asthma?
Shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness: these are all symptoms of asthma, a chronic lung condition that affects more than 26 million Americans. Asthma can be described as difficulty breathing and is caused by inflammation to the tubes that lead air into and out of the lungs – the bronchial tubes. Sounds scary, right? Thankfully, though, if you or someone you love has asthma, the condition can usually be managed effectively by knowing and avoiding your triggers, and by taking medications to prevent symptoms and control them when they appear.
Possible Symptoms for Asthma
- Coughing with or without phlegm
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
- Chest pain
- Abnormal breathing pattern
Top 5 Asthma Causes
Asthma and allergic diseases often occur in different members of the same families. People are more likely to develop asthma if their parents have asthma. Evidence also suggests that people with severe asthma are more likely to have higher levels of a protein in the blood called YKL-40 than people without asthma.
2. Respiratory Infections
Respiratory infections, including the flu, pneumonia, and the common cold, can cause swelling and narrowing of the airways that can trigger asthma symptoms. Infants and children who suffer from respiratory infections might be more susceptible to asthma due to inflammation and severe damage to developing lung tissue. Wheezing episodes during infancy and childhood are a major risk factor for the diagnosis of asthma by the age of 6.
Allergic responses happen when the immune system mistakenly views harmless substances, such as dust and pet dander, as threats and causes antibodies to bind to the substances in an attempt to protect the body from the threat. Allergies cause the immune system to release chemicals that trigger reactions such as a runny or stuffy nose, itchy eyes, and asthma. Other allergens that can cause asthma include pollen, pet dander, dust mites, and certain foods, such as peanuts, milk, and eggs.
Certain environmental factors can trigger asthma. These include exposure to certain irritants during infancy and childhood, when the lungs are still developing. Allergens, cigarette smoke, air pollution, and bad weather conditions, such as freezing temperatures and high humidity, are other environmental factors that cause asthma. Exposure to vapors from household products such as bleach and paint thinner might cause asthma, as can vapors at the workplace, such as metal fumes and fumes produced by industrial chemicals. Asthma triggered by workplace irritants is known as occupational asthma.
Certain medications can trigger asthma symptoms severe enough to cause death. Medications found to cause asthma include aspirin, beta-blockers, ibuprofen, naproxen, and ACE inhibitors. People who suffer from asthma and who use these medications can talk to their doctors about using alternative medications and treatments that aren’t linked to asthma symptoms.
5 Ways to Prevent Asthma
1. Identify and Avoid Triggers
Asthma triggers are different for everyone depending on the root cause of their asthma. Keep track of your symptoms and asthma attacks so you can identify triggers. Then take steps to avoid those triggers. For instance, if you find that pet dander triggers your asthma, avoid spending time in environments that expose you to pet dander, such as pet stores and homes where pets live indoors.
2. Use Asthma Medications as Prescribed
Asthma medications can improve your symptoms; if your symptoms clear, your medication might be working as intended. Don’t stop taking asthma medications if symptoms clear, and talk to your doctor about any questions you have about your current dosages. Your doctor can discuss or reevaluate your treatment plan as needed and make sure you’re properly using your inhaler and other medications.
3. Monitor Breathing
Use a peak flow meter to measure and record your peak airflow at least two times per day or as recommended by your doctor. Monitoring your breathing can help you determine whether asthma symptoms are worsening so you can talk to your doctor about modifying your treatment plan.
4. Treat Asthma Attacks Early
Being able to detect an oncoming asthma attack can help you avoid a severe or full-blown attack that leads to more serious complications. Use a peak flow meter to manage your asthma symptoms, and immediately eliminate the triggers or stop activity that threatens an attack. Treating asthma attacks as early as possible can help you stay safe, prevent the need for extra medication, and lower your risk for asthma-related complications.
5. Develop an Asthma Action Plan
An asthma action plan is a detailed plan that outlines how to use your medications, along with the steps you should take in the event of an asthma attack or emergency. An asthma action plan can help you feel more in control of your condition and could lower your risk for life-threatening complications linked to asthma, including pneumonia, collapsed lung, and respiratory failure.
Possible Asthma Treatment Options
- Long-term control medications, such as inhaled corticosteroids, leukotriene modifiers, theophylline, and long-acting beta agonists
- Quick-relief medications, including ipratropium, short-acting beta agonists, and oral and intravenous corticosteroids
- Asthma inhalers
- Asthma nebulizers
- Allergy medications
- Regular exercise
- Weight management
- Heartburn and GERD treatments
- Breathing exercises
- Herbal and natural remedies, such as black seed, caffeine, choline, and Pycnogenol
Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Asthma Treatment
- Have your asthma symptoms improved or become worse?
- Are there any new triggers contributing to your asthma symptoms?
- Are you still using your asthma medication as directed?
- Have there been any environmental changes at home or in the workplace?
- Do you experience any severe side effects of asthma medication?
- Does your asthma medication work effectively at reducing symptoms?
- How often do you use your quick-relief medication?
Asthma May Also Be Known as
- National Library of Medicine. Asthma. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000141.htm
- National Library of Medicine. The Genetics of Asthma and Allergic Disease: A 21st Century Perspective. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3151648/
- Yale News. Genetic Mutation Appears to Cause Asthma. https://news.yale.edu/2008/04/09/genetic-mutation-appears-cause-asthma
- National Library of Medicine. The Role of Viral Respiratory Infections in Asthma and Asthma Exacerbations. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2972660/
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Common Asthma Triggers. https://www.cdc.gov/asthma/triggers.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health Effects Asthma and the Environment - CDC Tracking Network. https://ephtracking.cdc.gov/showAsthmaAndEnv
- New York State. Environmental Asthma Triggers. https://www.health.ny.gov/publications/4955/
- National Library of Medicine. Medications as asthma triggers. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15579370
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Asthma. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/asthma
- National Library of Medicine. Clinical review: Severe asthma. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC137395/
- National Library of Medicine. Section 4, Managing Asthma Long Term: Overview. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK7234/
- National Library of Medicine. Eight key questions to ask when your patient with asthma doesn't get better. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9012277