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Living with Asthma 101

Asthma is a condition where your airways swell, narrow, and produce excess mucus. More than likely, you know someone who suffers from asthma! The National Center for Health Statistics estimates that 18.4 million adults have asthma in America. In order to care for yourself or a loved one with asthma properly, make sure you understand what asthma looks like, how it can be treated, and where you can get that treatment.

Living with Asthma

Symptoms of Asthma

Asthma symptoms vary from person to person. To manage your health properly, take note of your own symptoms to ensure you can recognize when your asthma begins to flare up.

Some common symptoms are:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Whistling noise when exhaling
  • Coughing, especially in the morning or night
  • Trouble sleeping due to breathing difficulty
  • Coughing or wheezing attacks that are worsened by cold or flu

Asthma attacks

When asthma symptoms suddenly escalate beyond their usual severity, it is called an “asthma attack.” These events need to be treated seriously. Do not wait to see if an asthma attack will resolve with time. Severe asthma attacks can be life threatening.

Symptoms of a severe asthma attack include:

  • Breathlessness, even when laying down
  • Chest tightness
  • Inability to speak full sentences
  • Blue tint to lips
  • Confusion, agitation, inability to concentrate
  • Straining abdominal and neck muscles
  • Feeling that you need to sit or stand up to breathe easier

Coughing and wheezing may not necessarily worsen based on the severity of the asthma attack. In fact, some extreme cases of asthma attacks do not involve any wheezing or coughing, since your lungs may not get enough air to do either of these things.

Asthma attacks can be fatal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, asthma attacks resulted in 3,651 deaths in 2014. While children experience asthma attacks with slightly more frequency than adults, you will not outgrow the risk that asthma presents. As the chart below shows, older adults die from asthma attacks significantly more than children. In fact, asthma is rarely a sudden, unexpected killer. Usually, if someone dies from asthma, it is because of gradually worsening symptoms over time.

Asthma Death Chart

Causes of Asthma

Asthma can flair up for a variety of reasons. The symptoms are similar, but the inciting event triggering the asthma can differ. Identifying what causes your asthma symptoms to flare up is incredibly important for your well-being. In order to treat your condition properly, you and your doctor need to know what is causing your airways to swell.

Allergy-induced asthma

Around 50 million Americans live with indoor and outdoor allergies according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Allergies and asthma often occur together. In fact, allergy-induced asthma is the most common type of asthma. 60 percent of people with asthma suffer from allergy-induced asthma. It is easy to see the similarities. Both are respiratory conditions with similar symptoms.

Allergens – like pollens, spores, dust mites, mold, or pet dander – cause the airways of the lungs to become inflamed and swollen.

Exercise-induced asthma

Under normal circumstances, people breath through their nose. Air is warmed and moistened in the nasal cavity. When exercising, however, you may rely on breathing through your mouth. This means your lungs are in contact with colder, drier air than usual.

Exercise-induced asthma occurs when, after 5 to 20 minutes, this temperature and humidity difference causes your airways to narrow. Restricted breathing results in coughing, wheezing, fatigue, and/or a tightening of the chest.

People with asthma often experience asthma symptoms when exerting themselves physically. However, there are also individuals who do not otherwise experience asthma that suffer symptoms when exercising.

Occupational asthma

Occupational asthma, as the name implies, is a result of your workplace. In some cases, a work environment inflames a pre-existing. Other times, the workplace causes a new problem to develop.

There are three general causes of work-related asthma. First, a work environment can have allergens that a person may not otherwise be exposed to, resulting in their asthma flaring up. Second, some work-places contain irritants that can trigger asthma, such as a coworker smoking. Finally, in the case of a reaction, sometimes a body’s natural chemicals – like histamines – can build up and cause an asthma attack.

When you suffer from occupational asthma, your symptoms will be worse on days that you work and you will improve during your time off. In addition to the normal asthma symptoms, you may also experience eye irritation, runny nose, and/or nasal congestion.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration set guidelines determining acceptable levels of exposure to substances known to cause occupational asthma. If exposure to certain triggers is unavoidable in your career, speak with your healthcare provider to determine the best way to approach your employer regarding precautions or alternative workplace set-ups.

Asthma Treatments

Asthma is a chronic condition. Often, asthma changes as people age. Some individuals will see their symptoms lesson; however, others will find them worsening with time. Ultimately, there is no cure, only treatments.

Knowing yourself and your body is the most important part of treating your asthma. Once you and your doctor identify what causes your asthma to flare up, you can modify your environment and habits to help prevent asthma attacks before they start.

Together with your doctor, you can also find medications that help you prevent and/or treat asthma attacks. Some possible options include:

  • Long-term asthma control medications
    • Inhaled corticosteroids
    • Leukotriene modifiers
    • Long-acting beat agonists
    • Combination inhalers
    • Theophylline
  • Quick-relief (rescue) medications
    • Short-acting beta agonists
    • Ipratropium (Atrovent)
    • Oral and intravenous corticosteroids
  • Allergy medications
    • Allergy shots (immunotherapy)
    • Omalizumab (Xolair)
  • Bronchial thermoplasty

For your safety, make sure to create an asthma action plan with your doctor to ensure you and your family understand the appropriate action for treating your asthma, whether it is a little flare or a serious attack.

Where to get asthma treatment in San Antonio

Asthma may be common, but that does not mean it is alright to ignore it. Call us at (210) 921-6600 to get more information about asthma or asthma-related symptoms. If you or your loved one are experiencing an asthma attack, hurry to the nearest Gonzaba Urgent Care location for assistance immediately.

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