Asthma is a common lung condition that affects more than 25 million Americans. It causes the airways to become inflamed, narrowing the air passage to the lungs and makes breathing difficult. There’s no cure for asthma, but there are methods and treatments for controlling it and reducing its symptoms.
- 5 Facts You Didn’t Know About Asthma
- What Causes Asthma?
- What are the Symptoms of Asthma?
- What’s an Asthma Action Plan?
- What are the Common ways to Diagnose Asthma?
- Top 10 Natural Remedies for Asthma Treatment
- Asthma & Air Purifiers
- Final Tips for Living with Asthma
5 Facts You Didn’t Know About Asthma
- According to the “Centers for Disease Control”, 8.4% of Children suffer from Asthma
- Asthma is more common in children than adults
- Asthma rates are higher for African Americans
- 25 million Americans suffer from some form of asthma
- Asthma can be triggered by mold and mildew in your home
What Causes Asthma?
We don’t know everything that causes asthma – at least not yet. What we do know, is that genetics, our environment and where we work can contribute to the disease. If you have family members with asthma, your risk of developing it are increased.
Environmental triggers for asthma are common and they can cause the disease to develop without any family history. These triggers include mold, mildew, dust, dampness, cigarette smoke, and pollution. We can’t eliminate all of these factors, but we can reduce them by taking steps to minimize exposure to them.
Workplace triggers can be harder to control. If your employment requires exposure to chemicals, dust or other potential irritants, your risk of developing asthma increases. Wearing protective equipment and avoiding unnecessary contact with workplace risks can help.
What are the Symptoms of Asthma?
Many symptoms may indicate you have asthma. Frequent coughing fits, especially while sleeping is a potential sign of asthma. Losing your breath easily or wheezing while exercising can also be a sign of asthma. Some sufferers tire easily, experience shortness of breath and chest tightness as well.
What Are the Early Warning Signs of an Asthma Attack?
Most asthma attacks and deaths are preventable by recognizing the early signs and seeking treatment quickly. Symptoms usually begin long before an attack starts – being alert to what they are can mean the difference between a mild or severe reaction. These early warning signs don’t prevent you from continuing with your daily routine, but they will get worse if ignored.
It isn’t always possible to avoid asthma without medical treatment. Knowing when to seek medical help for the disease is important in managing it. How do we know when to see a doctor? Here are 6 signs you need to visit a doctor about your asthma condition:
- Light exercise causes you to lose your breath
- Your sleep is constantly interrupted by coughing
- When you have a cough, it won’t go away
- You find yourself yawning a lot
- You’re always taking deep breaths to get enough oxygen
- You’re tired all the time
How to Deal with an Asthma Emergency
An asthma attack can happen even after taking every known step to prevent it. There are still things that will reduce the severity of the attack while waiting for medical attention. Educating family members so that they can help in the event of an emergency is an important first step.
It’s best to keep calm as anxiety and panic can make symptoms worse and lead to complications. If someone is experiencing an attack, speak to him or her calmly and soothingly. Be reassuring and let them know that everything is going to be okay and that you’re there to help them through it.
Standing may make their symptoms worse. Have them sit up and try to breathe steadily. They shouldn’t bend over, as this will obstruct the airway. Assuming a normal sitting position will open the airway as much as possible.
The next step is to consider the environment around them. Are their triggers in the area that may have caused the attack? If they’re near cigarette smoke or in a moldy room, it may have contributed to the advent of the attack. Removing the asthma sufferer from the area can help to reduce the symptoms and the attack may stop with time.
If they have their inhaler with them, help them to administer it as prescribed by their doctor. Quickly read over the instructions on the label and follow the proper dosage. If the medication is working, the asthma sufferer will feel better within 15 to 20 minutes.
In the event of a severe episode, the inhaler alone won’t stop the attack. If the patient has a bluish tinge to their lips or they are continuing to have trouble catching their breath, the situation is serious. When this happens it’s time to seek professional medical treatment. Even after mild attacks, contact the family physician, so that they can adjust the treatment plan if needed.
What’s an Asthma Action Plan?
Action plans are a good idea for anyone suffering from asthma but are essential in the treatment of children with asthma. The disease is more common in children and one of the leading childhood ailments in America. A child needs the guidance that a plan provides to keep their asthma under control. There’s strong evidence that children with an action plan for their asthma can live normal lives, confident that it’s under control.
An asthma action plan is a written set of instructions created in consultation with a qualified doctor. He or she will sit down with the patient, discuss their symptoms and potential triggers and together write a plan that will work best.
Each patient requires a different plan based on his or her family history, home environment, and work or school setting. If a plan is successful, the patient will experience fewer symptoms and require fewer visits to the doctor or emergency room.
What’s in the Written Action Plan?
Each plan will be different, but there are some common ingredients. An action plan will include a record of medications that are in use and the dosage. This will include any changes made over time to the dosage or the type of medication. For children, this part of the plan is important to share with school administrators and teachers, so they can help with treatment when needed.
The plan will also include a list of potential triggers and if possible, will outline which triggers are the biggest risk factors in each case. Being around family members that smoke is one of the biggest concerns, but ensuring a clean environment is also important. A home free of dust, mold and other allergens will reduce the risk of asthma attacks.
With a plan in place, asthma is manageable, but it isn’t possible to prevent all asthma symptoms. That’s why the plan also needs to include a list of these symptoms and how to treat them. Administering an inhaler before a full-blown attack can prevent the need for medical attention and knowing the symptoms ahead of time makes this possible.
Anxiety can be one of the triggers of asthma. When we experience anxiety, it can cause us to hyperventilate, which narrows the airway. Having an action plan can help reduce the risk of anxiety in asthma sufferers because of the confidence the plan gives them. It’s reassuring to know the tools needed to deal with the disease are available and that everyone around you is aware of the plan.
A detailed asthma action plan isn’t a guarantee that a serious attack won’t happen. That’s why a good plan also includes instructions on how to deal with an emergency. It will outline the signs that an attack is serious enough to require immediate medical attention and what to do while waiting for emergency medical personnel to arrive.
There are some great free tools available online to get you started on your own asthma action plan. Here is a downloadable action plan (opens in a new tab) from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and this plan (opens in a new tab) created by the American Lung Association is ideal for children. (View all Asthma Action Plans Types & Examples)
The American Lung Association also suggests creating three zones in an asthma action plan:
- Green Zone – this indicates that there are no outward signs of asthma. Breathing is normal and there is no need to use an inhaler more than 3 times per week. You can perform all normal daily tasks and even take part in vigorous exercise.
- Yellow Zone – The yellow zone is the warning zone. You have symptoms such as difficulty breathing after exercise, sleep interruptions from coughing and chest tightness. It might be necessary to take time off work or school because of these symptoms.
- Red zone – If you’re in the red zone, you need medical attention. You’re coughing or wheezing and can’t catch your breath. Sometimes, there will be discoloration of the lips and you may experience heightened anxiety.
The goal of the action plan is to live in the green zone and the written plan makes that possible. By following the plan, it’s possible to control or reduce the symptoms that cause asthma attacks. A plan allows you to participate in your treatment and be part of the solution.
What are the Common ways to Diagnose Asthma?
After an initial physical exam, a doctor can use two different types of tests to diagnose asthma. The first kind is a lung function test, also known as a pulmonary test that can identify any lung problems present. Doctors may also use challenge tests or provocation tests to check for asthma. They use a challenge test if lung tests are inconclusive and these tests involve introducing an agent that causes the airway to react if you have asthma.
There are three types of lung function tests used by doctors: spirometry, exhaled nitric oxide and peak flow tests. Each test is used to measure how well you’re breathing and indicates if you are suffering from asthma. When a lung test is positive for asthma, the doctor will then use it to begin a treatment regimen.
A spirometry test measures the speed that air moves in and out of your lungs. Doctors often use a bronchodilator that opens the airway before a second test to measure the difference. If the airflow improves after taking the medication, it’s a strong indication that you have asthma. The doctor may have you take the test more than once to verify the accuracy of the results.
Peak Flow Tests
A peak flow meter is a portable device that tests how air moves out of the lungs. A doctor then compares this against normal levels to test for asthma. He or she will often recommend these devices for home use by asthma sufferers for daily tracking of lung capacity. Patients can monitor changes in their lung function each day and use their inhalers when there’s an indication of reduced lung function to control symptoms.
Exhaled Nitric Oxide Tests
An exhaled nitric oxide test involves breathing into a small machine that measures nitric oxide for 10 seconds. Doctors have found that this gas can help to identify if an airway is inflamed, which is a sign that you have asthma. The level of nitric oxide in the test sample can tell the doctor how inflamed an airway is and if your asthma is severe or mild.
Challenge or Provocation Tests
Provocation tests use different triggers to test for asthma. There are three different types of challenge tests: irritant tests, exercise tests, and Methacholine tests.
With irritant tests, the doctor introduces a chemical, smoke or another trigger to test how you react to it. If it causes coughing or wheezing, that’s an indication that you have asthma. After introducing the irritant, the doctor performs a lung test to observe your reaction.
Doctors can use an exercise test to check for asthma if you’ve experienced difficulty breathing after physical activity. The test involves running on a treadmill while the doctor monitors your oxygen levels and heart rate. If you have asthma triggered by exercise, the test will confirm this and help in developing a course of action for treatment.
A methacholine test is the third type of provocation test. If you have asthma, the introduction of methacholine into your airway will cause it to tighten at low doses. If low doses of this drug don’t cause the airway to tighten, it’s not asthma causing your symptoms, but it could be a sign of something else such as pneumonia or heart disease.
There are many different types of asthma. Common types include adult-onset asthma, allergic asthma, non-allergic asthma, exercise-induced asthma, and occupational asthma. When you’re struggling with this disease it may not seem important to identify which type you have, but making the right diagnosis allows doctors to recommend the best treatment plan.
Testing for asthma in children involves the same tests used in adults. The difficulty with children is that many common childhood illnesses have similar symptoms to asthma. For example, a respiratory tract infection may look like asthma. Your child’s doctor will use a range of tests to be sure that it is asthma before starting treatment.
Asthma inhalers can be divided into two different types – maintenance and rescue inhalers. A rescue inhaler is a short-acting medication that provides quick relief of asthma symptoms. They use a bronchodilator that opens the airway rapidly and allows the asthma sufferer to breathe. A maintenance inhaler uses medication that reacts more slowly with the airway and improves function over time. This latter type is the inhaler you take on a daily or weekly basis to avoid the onset of asthma symptoms.
Effective treatment of asthma starts with understanding the symptoms of the disease. There are common triggers that cause asthma and the best place to start is by removing these triggers from your environment. Doctors also recommend using a Peak Flow Meter at home to monitor breathing and taking medication as prescribed.
If an asthma attack is severe, it will require emergency medical treatment. In a life-threatening situation, doctors will insert a breathing tube down the patient’s throat to pump oxygen directly into the lungs. This gives him or her time to treat the airway and reduce the inflammation so that you can begin breathing on your own again.
Top 10 Natural Remedies for Asthma Treatment
Inhalers aren’t the only way to treat asthma symptoms at home. Some natural treatments can help open an inflamed airway as well. Here are our top ten natural remedies for asthma treatment:
- Steam Baths
- Herbs such as garlic and turmeric
- Omega 3’s
- Eucalyptus based products
- Yoga and meditation
- Dietary changes
- Avoid smoking
- Have pet-free areas
Asthma & Air Purifiers
Air purifiers are a good addition to the home in the fight against asthma. They remove major asthma triggers like tobacco smoke, pet dander, and mold from the air. it’s a good idea to have one in the bedroom where you sleep as well. Here are our top air purifier picks for people who suffer from asthma.
Final Tips for Living with Asthma
Asthma is a manageable disease if you follow the tips outlined in this article. Start with an action plan that clearly outlines how to manage your asthma. Make sure you always have medication on hand as prescribed by your doctor and keep track of your breathing daily. Avoid triggers that can cause asthma and make sure your home is clean and free of allergens.
Following these simple steps will make it easier to live with asthma and help to avoid asthma attacks. If you found this article helpful, feel free to share it with your friends and family!