What Is Asthma?

Asthma is a disease that affects your lungs causing swelling in the airways of the lung. It is one of the most common long-term diseases of children and adults. Asthma causes repeated episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and nighttime or early morning coughing. If you have asthma, you have it all the time.  We don’t know how to cure asthma but we do know how the control the symptoms.

You can control your asthma by knowing the warning signs of an attack, staying away from things that trigger an attack, and following the advice of your doctor or other medical professional. When you control your asthma:

  • symptoms such as wheezing or coughing improve
  • you sleep better
  • you won’t miss work or school
  • you can take part in all physical activities
  • the incidence of emergency room visits and hospitalizations will decrease

How Is Asthma Diagnosed?

Asthma can be hard to diagnose. Regular physical checkups that include checking your lung function and checking for allergies can help your doctor or other medical professional make the right diagnosis.

During a checkup, the medical provider will ask you questions about whether you cough a lot, especially at night, and whether your breathing problems are worse after physical activity or during a particular time of year. Doctors will also ask about other symptoms, such as chest tightness, wheezing, and colds lasting more than 10 days. They will ask you whether your family members have or have had asthma, allergies, or other breathing problems, and they will ask you questions about your home. The doctor will also ask you about missing school or work and about any trouble you may have doing certain activities.

There are several tests that can help diagnosis asthma, a peak flow meter measures how well the air moves out of your lungs.  Another lung function test, is called spirometry, the spirometer measures the largest amount of air you can exhale, or breathe out, after taking a very deep breath. The spirometer can measure airflow before and after you use asthma medicine.

What are asthma triggers?

When you have asthma your airways always have some irritation. When you have an asthma exacerbation or attack this irritation gets worse and your airways close part way and get blocked with mucus. Asthma attacks may include coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, and trouble breathing.

An asthma attack can occur when you are exposed to things in the environment, such as house dust mites and tobacco smoke. These are called asthma triggers and not all individuals have the same set of triggers.

How Is Asthma Controlled?

Obviously avoidance of asthma triggers is the ideal way of controlling asthma.  Unfortunately avoidance is not always practical.  There are two basic types of medication used to control asthma: short-term medications that provide quick relief during attacks and long-term medications that control asthma in general.

The Asthma Action Plan

People with asthma should have an asthma action plan. Your health care provider can help create a plan of action or management plan to help control your asthma. The asthma action plan shows your daily treatment, such as what kind of medicines to take and when to take them. Your plan describes how to control asthma long term AND how to handle worsening asthma, or attacks. The plan explains when to call the doctor or go to the emergency room.