Learn About Asthma
Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that involves inflammation and narrowing of the bronchial tubes in the airways, which can make it difficult for you to breathe. It is a common condition, and more than 22 million people are known to have asthma in the United States.
The symptoms that people with asthma may experience include:
- Wheezing (whistling sound when breathing)
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
It is common for the symptoms get worse at certain times of the day such as at nighttime or in the early morning, particularly when the air is cold. Additionally, the symptoms may become more noticeable for several days or weeks if you are run down with a cold or the flu.
If asthma is poorly managed, the symptoms can suddenly become much worse and lead to what is known as an asthma attack. Someone having an asthma attack usually has rapid breathing, severe wheezing, chest tightness, and may have difficulty breathing or talking due to the symptoms. In serious cases without treatment, an asthma attack can be fatal.
Although asthma can be diagnosed at any age, the symptoms usually begin in childhood, which prompts diagnosis.
The first step in the diagnosis is a discussion about symptoms and medical history, followed by a physical examination. There are also several lung function tests that are used to measure how well you breathe. For example, spirometry measures the volume and speed of air you can exhale after taking in a deep breath and peak flow is a test to measure the force when you breathe out. Both of these tests help to estimate the inflammation and narrowing of the airways. During the diagnosis of asthma, you may be asked to perform one of these tests and then repeat it after taking a bronchodilator medication. This is because the symptoms of asthma are usually reversible with this medication and your results improve with the second test.
The severity of asthma is also determined during the diagnostic process as follows:
- Mild intermittent asthma: Mild symptoms up to two days a week and two nights a month
- Mild persistent: Symptoms several times a week
- Moderate persistent: Symptoms once a day and several nights a week
- Severe persistent: Symptoms throughout most days and nights
Although there is no cure for asthma, the symptoms can usually be well managed and allow you to live a normal and active lifestyle. The intensity of the asthma symptoms naturally fluctuates, and flare-ups or exacerbations when symptoms become worse in certain time periods are common. If you have asthma, it is important that you recognize when your symptoms are becoming worse so that you can take steps to reduce the inflammation and prevent an asthma attack.
Your doctor will create an asthma action plan for you to refer to when your symptoms are getting worse during a flare-up or an asthma attack. Most people need to take preventative medication every day to control their symptoms over the long-term and also use a reliever medication to reduce symptoms when they get worse.
What else can you do?
There are several things that can make your asthma symptoms worse, known as triggers. These things are different for each person with asthma and may include:
- Allergens such as dust, animal fur, cockroaches, mold and pollen
- Irritants such as smoke, pollution and chemical fumes
- Medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen and beta-blocker drugs
- Sulfites in consumer products
If you have asthma, it is important that you try to avoid these triggers, particularly if you know that they tend to worsen your symptoms.
Want to know more?
If you think that you or your child may have symptoms of asthma, you should seek advice from a medical professional as soon as possible. At Central Arkansas Lung, we will be happy to give you personalized and professional advice about management options for asthma.
Simply call us if you’d like more information or to organize an appointment to discuss your symptoms.