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Asthma FAQs

What is Asthma? 
Asthma is a common respiratory disease that affects both children and adults.  While it is most often diagnosed in childhood, sometimes it can go undiagnosed, or may not develop, until adulthood.  Wheezing, breathlessness, coughing at night and upon waking, and chest tightness are the most common symptoms of asthma.  Asthma attacks have many triggers and triggers vary from person to person.  While asthma is a chronic illness with no cure, there are many effective treatments that can prevent attacks and reduce symptoms, and children and adults can live long, active lives with the disease. 

How Do I know if I Have Asthma?
Diagnosing someone with asthma, especially a child under age 5, can be tricky.   If you suspect that you or a family member might have asthma, the first step is to head to the doctor, who will do a full assessment.

During your appointment, the doctor will check for allergies, which are a common asthma trigger, and ask several key questions, including if you cough a lot, especially at night, and if you have breathing problems during physical activity, such as exercise,  or at certain times of the year.  The doctor will also ask about specific asthma symptoms, including wheezing, chest tightness, and if colds last more than 10 days.  The doctor will also take a detailed family history, as having family members with asthma, allergies, and other breathing problems can increase your chances of having asthma.  They will also ask about your home environment and if your breathing problems have impacted your work or school schedule. 

Once the doctor has considered all the factors, an official diagnosis will be made and, if needed, a treatment plan put into place. 

What are the Signs of an Asthma Attack?
The signs of an asthma attack include coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and trouble breathing.   When an asthma attack occurs, the body’s airways, which carry air to the lungs, swell and become smaller, causing the airways to shrink.  Less air is able to move through your lungs and mucous begins to clog the airways, making it harder to breathe.  Many people describe an asthma attack as feeling as if they are trying to breathe through a drinking straw. 

Three of the most important elements of asthma control are knowing the warning signs of an asthma attack, staying away from known asthma triggers, and following your doctor’s treatment plan.  By controlling your asthma you can reduce symptoms such as wheezing and coughing, improve your overall health, be able to take part in all physical activities, won’t have to miss work or school, and can prevent hospitalization. 

What are the Most Common Asthma Triggers?
Asthma has many different triggers, and not everyone’s asthma triggers are the same.  An “asthma trigger” is something that irritates the lungs and brings on an attack.  It is important to learn what your asthma triggers are and how to avoid them so you can control your asthma and reduce the chances of having an attack.  While not everyone with asthma will react to every one of these common triggers, many asthmatics are sensitive to them.   

  •        Tobacco smoke-Smoking is unhealthy for everyone, and especially for people with asthma.  Even secondhand smoke, or smoke created by another person and breathed in by a non-smoker, can be dangerous for an asthmatic.  If you have asthma and smoke, or if someone in your home has asthma, it’s time to quit.
  •         Dust mites-These tiny bugs can trigger an attack in asthmatics who are sensitive to dust.  While it is impossible to create a dust-free home, using dust mite covers on mattresses and pillows can cut down on exposure. 
  •         Outdoor Air Pollution-Pollution from cars, factories, and other sources reduces the air quality and can trigger an attack.  Pay attention to air quality reports on television and heed warnings to stay indoors on poor air quality days. 
  •        Cockroaches-Cockroaches and their droppings are a common trigger, so it is important to limit exposure.  If you have a cockroach problem in your home, call in an exterminator to take care of the problem and once you’ve taken care of the problem, get rid of any food or water sources they may be attracted to.  Vacuum every 2 to 3 days to eliminate any crumbs and use traps to catch any roaches so that you don’t risk another infestation. 
  •          Pets-Animal dander from your furry friends may be causing your asthma attacks.  If you suspect it’s Fido that’s causing your asthma attacks but aren’t willing to get rid of the family pet, keep him outside as much as possible, bathe him every week, and keep him out of the asthmatic’s bedroom to limit exposure. 
  •          Other Triggers-Other common triggers for asthma include mold, humidity, smoke, infections such as the flu, physical exercise, cold, dry air, some types of foods and food additives, and perfumes. 

How is Asthma Treated? 
There are several asthma treatments and it is up to your doctor to determine which is the best one for you.  Not everyone responds to treatment in the same way, and what works for you may not work for someone else, so it’s always important to follow your doctor’s advice.  There are two types of asthma medicines available—quick relief and long-term control.  Quick relief medicines will relieve the symptoms of an attack while long-term medicines will help you have fewer and less severe attacks.  If you find you are using your quick-relief medicines more often, it’s time to see your doctor, as your long-term medicines may need to be adjusted. 

When combined with avoiding asthma triggers, asthma medicines, whether taken as a pill or breathed in through an inhaler or nebulizer, make it possible to control asthma so you can lead a full, long life.  Work with your doctor to find the treatment plan that works best for you and gives you the most relief from your symptoms.  Be sure to check out some of our asthma control devices for treatment of symptoms.

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