Asthma is a serious, chronic disease affecting 1 in 11 children and 1 in 12 adults. It causes millions of hospital stays, emergency room visits and sick days each year. Asthma can also significantly reduce your quality of life because it can limit your ability to enjoy activities you love. Creating an asthma management plan with your doctor is the most important step you can take to reduce your risk of having an asthma attack and manage your condition.
How Asthma Works
If you have asthma, your lungs become inflamed by triggers such as, allergens, chemical irritants and illnesses like colds or the flu. When exposed to a trigger, the muscles in your airways swell and tighten, making it difficult for you to breathe. The common symptoms of asthma are:
- Coughing, especially at night and in the early morning
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
“If you are having an asthma attack, sit upright and use your rescue inhaler (Albuterol) every 30 to 60 seconds until you begin to breathe without difficulty,” says Meredith Webb, MD, a pulmonologist with Adventist HealthCare Adventist Medical Group. “If you don’t have an inhaler, call an ambulance immediately.” After an asthma attack or if your symptoms worsen, call your doctor. They may need to perform additional testing and adjust any medications as necessary.
While the exact cause of asthma is unknown, researchers believe genetic factors and exposure to environmental triggers such as secondhand smoke in childhood play a role. “African-American, Hispanic/ Latino and multi-race children and adults are more likely to develop asthma and experience asthma-related emergencies than other ethnic groups,” says Dr. Webb.
Managing Your Asthma Triggers
Working with your doctor to develop an asthma management plan can save your life and increase your quality of life so you can breathe easier and do many of the activities you love. Following a management plan can also help prevent long-term lung scarring, which makes your asthma harder to treat.
Here are five ways you can manage your condition and reduce the risk of an asthma attack:
Reduce or Eliminate Indoor Allergens
Dust mites, pet hair, mold and other indoor allergens can irritate your airways. To reduce your risk of an attack, use mattress and pillowcase covers, frequently wash your linens, vacuum pet hair and fix water leaks in your home.
Prevent Viruses and Other Illnesses
Catching a cold, flu and other virus can severely limit your ability to breathe and lead to serious asthma attacks. Dr. Webb also says the asthma control medicine you use every day may not prevent attacks caused by respiratory viruses. “Talk to your doctor about creating an action plan during these moments,” she says. “You can also minimize your risk of catching a virus by washing your hands frequently, avoiding people who are sick and getting the flu vaccine.”
Follow the Rules of Two
The Rules of Two will help you manage your condition and get the care you need if your asthma begins to worsen. If you experience any of the following, talk with your doctor because it may indicate your asthma is not under control.
- Experiencing symptoms/attacks more than twice a week
- Waking up more than twice a month with symptoms
- Using your rescue inhaler more than twice a week
If you are on a daily controller medication, take it as prescribed and talk with your doctor if you start to experience symptoms. Remember to also take special precautions before, during and after exercising. “Inhaling albuterol before exercise may help prevent airway constriction,” says Dr. Webb. “Exercising without taking medication may sometimes lead to breathing issues five to ten minutes after you finish.”
Avoid Tobacco Smoke
Smoking and being exposed to second hand smoke is especially dangerous if you have asthma. Smoke from tobacco or burning wood contains thousands of harmful chemicals that can inflame your lungs and put you at risk for other serious conditions. If you smoke, your doctor can help you develop a plan to quit. Also, avoid smoky environments whenever possible.
Monitor the Outdoor Conditions
Exhaust from factories, cars and other sources can worsen your asthma symptoms. Your symptoms can also be worse if the air is dry and it’s cold outside. Check your local weather forecast for reports on the weather conditions and plan your outdoor activities when air pollution levels will be low.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes of Health, American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, National Health Service