Asthma is a disease that affects the airway’s ability to deliver oxygen to the lungs. It causes periodic attacks of wheezing and difficulty breathing. An asthma attack occurs when the airways become inflamed in response to a trigger. Triggers are factors that bring about an asthma attack. There are many types of triggers including:
• Allergens – Such as pollen, mold, animal fur, dust, dust mites, and cockroaches
• Viral Infections – Viral infections of the respiratory tract often act as major triggers, since they irritate the airways, nose, throat, and sinuses
• Irritants – Examples of irritants are perfumes, household cleaners, cooking fumes, painting supplies, coal, chalk, and sudden changes in the weather
• Tobacco Smoke and Wood Smoke – No one should smoke in the home of an asthmatic
• Exercise – It is estimated that 85% of all asthmatics encounter wheezing after exercise
• Sensitivity to Medications – Up to 20% of all adult asthmatics experience an attack as a result of allergic reactions to medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and sulfites
During an asthma attack, the walls of the airways become inflamed and the mucous membrane covering the walls becomes swollen with fluid. Sticky mucus fills the remaining space, making it difficult to breathe. Because air cannot flow in and out of the lungs freely, a whistling or wheezing sound may be heard. During severe attacks, wheezing may stop because there is too little air moving to make any noise.
The key to diagnosing asthma is recognition of the recurrent symptoms of cough, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, or wheezing. If these symptoms are present, a physician will perform a pulmonary function test, also known as a spirometry. The test measures the “peak flow,” which is the speed of air blown out of the lungs. Asthmatics have trouble blowing air out, and therefore have lower peak flow measurements. A normal range for peak flow is based on the person’s age, weight, and sex. Daily measurement of the peak flow at home is essential to effectively manage asthma. Decreases in peak flow will alert the patient of the need for further treatment or an emergency medical visit to the doctor.
To treat asthma, the first step is to avoid the triggers that you are sensitive to whenever possible. Prescription medicines are usually needed to combat asthma. There are two main groups of asthma medicines: bronchodilators, which help stop asthma attacks after they have started and anti-inflammatories, which help prevent attacks from starting.
After a course of treatment is prescribed, it is very important to check regularly with your doctor to make sure that the medicines are helping you.
All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.