Asthma is a chronic (long-term) disease of the tubes that carry air to the lungs. The inner lining of the airways become swollen (inflammation) and the muscles around the airways tighten (bronchospasm) narrowing the airways further. The severity of asthma varies over time, and patients may not always have symptoms. When asthma is controlled, you should be able to do everything someone without asthma can do. Asthma affects people of any age, but often starts during childhood and more than 25 million people in the United States have asthma.
Symptoms of asthma:
- Coughing, especially at night
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in the chest
There are many things that can trigger asthma symptoms:
- Allergens such as dust, animal dander and fur, mold and pollens
- Irritants such as smoke, pollution, chemicals and dust
- Medications such as aspirin and nonselective beta-blockers
- Sulfites in food and drink
- Viral respiratory infections
- Physical activity (exercise induced asthma)
Your primary care provider will determine the severity of your asthma based on your health and family history as well as perform a physical exam and test results. Tests for asthma may include lung function tests as well allergy testing, bronchoprovocation and chest x-ray or EKG.
People with asthma can live normal, active lives – the key is taking an active role in the management of your disease. Treating asthma symptoms when they first occur with keep your symptoms from worsening. There are many things you can do to actively control your asthma - working with a provider to treat other conditions that might worsen your asthma, avoiding asthma triggers and following an asthma action plan.
As part of your asthma action plan, medication might be prescribed. Asthma is treated with two types of medicines: quick-relief medicines and long-term control.
Quick-relief medications (bronchodilators) are for short-term use to open up narrowed airways and help relieve the feeling of tightness in the chest, wheezing and breathlessness. They can also be used to prevent exercise-induced asthma.
Long-term control medications
Controller medications are used on a daily basis to control asthma and reduce the number of days that you have symptoms. These medications need to be taken every day, even if you are feeling well.
Get a flu shot every fall
Patients with asthma are at a much greater risk for complications when they are sick with influenza. Therefore, all patients and their household contacts are recommended to get immunized annually against influenza.