Living with asthma is never easy. It requires you to stay away from substances that may trigger your asthma and make breathing difficult. Asthma symptoms are different for different people. They can range from mild episodes of cough or wheezing that clear up in a few minutes to severe asthma attacks that are less common but might need medical attention right away.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a long-term lung disease. With asthma, your bronchial tubes get inflamed and block the airflow into and out of your lungs. About 25 million Americans are currently diagnosed with asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Asthma is the most common chronic disease in childhood and affects 1 in 14 American children.
Ordinarily, air flows through numerous narrow air passages as it moves in and out of your lungs when you breathe. In asthma, the air passages tighten and swell in response to specific triggers and get further narrowed as mucus fills inside them. This leads to difficulty breathing, cough, wheezing, and chest tightness.
Signs and Symptoms of Asthma
You might experience infrequent symptoms when exercising or have persistent asthma symptoms like the following:
- Shortness of breath
- Pain or tightness in the chest
- Sleep problems arising from shortness of breath and wheezing
- Worsening of cold and flu symptoms causing wheezing or breathlessness
Types of Asthma
Based on the frequency of symptoms, The National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (NAEPP) has classified the degree of severity to help treat asthma in patients.
Mild Intermittent Asthma:
Symptoms occur less than twice a week or two nights in a month.
Mild Persistent Asthma:
Here, the asthma symptoms occur more than two days a week or four nights a month. The symptoms are a little severe and might interfere with your daily activities.
Moderate Persistent Asthma:
The asthma symptoms occur daily and at least one night a week. They limit your daily activities.
Severe Persistent Asthma:
The asthma symptoms are present throughout the day and almost every night. They severely limit your daily activities.
Are you likely to have asthma?
Although the exact causes are unknown, doctors believe hereditary and environmental factors can contribute to the development of asthma.
You have a risk of getting asthma:
- If your parents or direct relations have the disease, especially your mother.
- If you have eczema or environmental allergies (hay fever). There is a direct connection between allergies and asthma.
- If you had respiratory infections in early childhood, such conditions might have caused inflammation and damaged your lung tissues, affecting your lung function in adult life.
Also, if you are African American or Puerto Rican, you have a greater risk of having the disease. Boys are more likely than girls to have asthma during childhood, while women are more likely than men to have asthma as adults.
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Causes of Asthma
You can get asthma symptoms in the following cases:
- Allergic asthma can be caused by allergens like pollen, dust mites, cockroaches, mold, and pets.
- Non-allergic asthma can be triggered by environmental factors like cold air, respiratory infections like cold and flu, tobacco smoke, strong smells, and environmental pollution.
- Physical activity, strong emotions, and stress can also trigger bouts of asthma in some.
- Certain medications like aspirin, beta-blockers, and nonsteroidal painkillers like Ibuprofen and Advil can induce asthmatic reactions.
- Preservatives and sulfites added to food and beverages like shrimp, processed foods, potatoes, and wine might trigger asthma in some people.
- Diseases like GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) can cause asthma symptoms.
What is an Asthma Attack?
An asthma attack happens when there is a sudden worsening of your asthma symptoms and can include the following signs:
- Severe episode of breathlessness or shortness of breath
- Pain or tightening of the chest
- Persistent episodes of coughing
- Severe wheezing both while inhaling and exhaling
- Tightening of neck and chest muscles
- Blue lips and fingernails
- Worsening of symptoms despite using medication
With an asthma attack, your airways get triggered and become swollen and inflamed. Their linings produce mucus that narrows the air passage. All these changes cause pressure and tightness in your chest and breathlessness.
Diagnosis of Asthma
If you have experienced one or more symptoms of asthma, your doctor would
- Ask about your family and medical history.
- Perform a physical exam and a pulmonary function test (a breathing test to evaluate your lung function).
- Conduct a fractional exhaled nitric oxide test (FeNO) to assess the nitric oxide level in your breath. A higher level means increased inflammation in your lungs.
- Recommend skin or blood tests to determine which allergens may be triggering your asthma.
- Run additional tests to determine the type of asthma and the optimal treatment plan.
Treatment Options for Asthma
After making a diagnosis of asthma, your doctor will plan out your asthma treatment based on the following factors:
- Your age
- Severity of the symptoms
- The triggers that cause asthma attacks
- Your asthma type
The asthma treatment can be classified as follows:
Fast Relief Asthma Treatment
In the case of infrequent asthma attacks, doctors prescribe quick-relief medications called bronchodilators. These come in the form of inhalers or nebulizers to relax the tightened muscles around your airways, allowing you to breathe better.
Inhalers and nebulizers can be used as home remedies in the case of infrequent and mild asthma symptoms.
Asthma Control Medication for the Long Term
If you have frequent or persistent asthma, your doctor will prescribe long-term medication to keep your asthma in control. This may include:
- Inhaled glucocorticoids: These anti-inflammatory medicines help reduce mucus production and swelling in your airways, allowing you to breathe better.
- Long-acting bronchodilators: They are used along with anti-inflammatory medication to relax the muscles around your airways.
- Anticholinergics: They help reduce mucus and relax the muscles around the airways to keep persistent asthma under control.
Doctors use biologics to treat severe asthma that does not respond to standard treatments. The biologics target specific inflammatory signals, disrupting the pathways that cause inflammation in the airways.
It is a minimally invasive procedure performed by pulmonologists and used in severe asthma cases to provide relief for up to five years.
Role of an Allergist for Asthma
An allergist is a physician specializing in identifying allergies that trigger asthma symptoms. They help treat and prevent allergy flares in people.
Because of their specialized training and education, an allergist or immunologist is considered the best person to treat and prevent allergies and limit patients' asthma symptoms.
With asthma, prevention is the best way to control it. If you are aware of the factors that trigger asthma, limiting exposure to such elements can prevent asthma attacks in the future.
Request an Asthma Appointment with an Allergist at Houston ENT & Allergy today!
If you are having symptoms of asthma, talk with our Houston ENT physician about treatment. They'll sit down with you and go over the options available that could help you with symptom relief.