What is Asthma?
Asthma is a respiratory a condition that affects nearly 25 million Americans and causes 2 million emergency room visits each year. It is the leading chronic disease in children also the top reason for missed school days. Symptoms can range from the very mild to the life threatening, and approximately 10 Americans die daily from asthma. Asthma causes difficulty breathing due to spasm of the respiratory passages (called “bronchi”), as well as inflammation inside these airways. The spasm and inflammation cause a narrowing of the airways, which makes it harder to breathe. While there is no cure, asthma can be managed with proper prevention and treatment.
What symptoms does asthma cause?
Individuals with asthma commonly experience bouts of difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest tightness, and coughing fits. Some individuals with “cough-variant asthma” experience only a persistent cough.
What triggers asthma attacks?
The most common triggers are viral infections such as an upper respiratory infection or the flu. Irritants from cigarette smoke, pollution, and environmental allergens can also trigger an attack. Occasionally exercise can produce symptoms in patients with “exercise-induced asthma”. Less common triggers include acid reflux (GERD), certain medications, stress, and sleep apnea.
How Is Asthma Diagnosed?
Asthma can often be diagnosed with a good medical history and physical exam. Your doctor will likely conduct breathing tests such as “spirometry” or “pulmonary function tests”. You may be given an inhaled medication to see how it affects the spirometry test. Chest X-rays are helpful to rule out other conditions. Occasionally, if your doctor thinks your asthma symptoms may be due to another underlying condition, you may need additional testing for allergies, acid reflux (GERD), or sleep apnea.
How Is Asthma Treated?
Asthma can be treated with medications that can help prevent an attack, as well as medicines that can treat an attack once it has started.
Preventive medications are used for patients who have frequent asthma symptoms. They will not help once an attack has already started.
Steroid inhaler (Flonase, Qvar, Pulmicort). These help decrease inflammation in the airways.
Long-acting bronchodilator inhaler (Serevent and Foradil). These help dilate the air passages.
Combination steroid-bronchodilator inhalers (Advair, Dulara, Symbicort). These are a combination of the above two inhaled medicines.
Leukotriene inhibitor (Singulair and Accolate). These are generally reserved for patients with moderate to severe asthma or allergy symptoms.
Abortive medications are used to treat an attack once it has started.
Short-acting “RESCUE” bronchodilator inhaler (Albuterol, Proair, Ventolin). These work immediately to dilate the airways, but their effects can wear off within a few hours.
Nebulized bronchodilator. These are generally the same medications found in inhalers, but given through a pressurized pump called a nebulizer.
Oral Steroids (Prednisone, Medrol). These work over a longer term to decrease inflammation for days.
Injections. Some patients with a more severe form of asthma may require injectible medications such as terbutaline or epinephrine.
Asthma Action Plan. All patients with asthma should have an asthma action plan. This is a written plan developed by your doctor that outlines:
- What medicines you should take daily?
- What medicines you should take when having an attack?
- When you should go to see your doctor or the ER?
If your child has asthma, all members of the family should know the asthma action plan, as should any babysitters. A copy should also be sent to their school, camp, or daycare center.
What should you do if you think you may asthma?
You should see your doctor or visit an urgent care clinic such as Access Now Urgent Care. We will obtain your medical history, perform an examination, and perform tests such as spirometry and X-rays if needed.
Asthma Management Tips:
- Avoid smoking or being around others who smoke
- Always carry a spare rescue inhaler (albuterol) in your car, purse, etc.
- Memorize your asthma action plan
- See your doctor regularly to review your treatment and action plans