Breathing in oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide is something most people do without thinking twice. It just comes naturally. But for millions of people around the world with asthma, getting a deep breath is a daily struggle that others will never know. With asthma, coughing and wheezing interrupt life and make exercise difficult if not impossible.
What triggers asthma and what are the symptoms? How is asthma best treated? Keep reading to find out.
It's your bronchial tubes, or airways, that bring air in and out of your lungs. When someone has asthma, these airways become inflamed, swollen, and produce too much mucous, making breathing difficult and causing the unpleasant symptoms of the disease.
Asthma is often triggered by things people are allergic to such as dust mites, pollen, mold, or pet dander. Other people are affected by pollution, cold or dry air, smoke, fumes, certain medications, or weather changes. High stress, laughing, crying, sickness, and exercise may also bring on an asthma attack.
You're more likely to develop asthma if you have a close family member with the disease, are overweight, have other allergies, smoke, or are exposed to secondhand smoke, pollution, fumes, or chemicals. However, it can strike even if you don’t have a family history of the disease or are exposed to certain triggers.
As with many conditions, the severity of asthma varies. Some people's asthma symptoms are severe and debilitating, while others have mild symptoms that are an occasional nuisance. Most people with asthma experience wheezing, a whistling sound when they breathe. Other common symptoms are chest tightness, shortness of breath, frequent coughing, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping due to the wheezing or coughing.
Anyone with symptoms like the ones listed above should be referred to an allergist or pulmonologist (a respiratory system specialist) for asthma testing and diagnosis. Various tests are used to determine how well your lungs are functioning. A spirometry test is performed by taking a deep breath and breathing into an instrument that measures how much air your lungs hold and how fast you're able to inhale and exhale.
The peak flow test measures the force with which you're able to exhale. A low reading indicates possible airway constriction. Since many people with asthma suffer from allergies and allergens are often asthma triggers, your doctor may recommend allergy testing to attack asthma from all fronts.
While there's no cure for asthma, there are ways of successfully managing symptoms. First, avoid the things you know trigger your asthma. If you know cold air is a trigger for you, stay indoors on chilly days. Dust mites set off an attack? Cover your pillows and mattress in a dust mite encasement and vacuum the house more frequently. You'll also reduce your asthma symptoms by staying active with regular exercise and maintaining a healthy bodyweight.
Second, take your medications as directed. Your doctor may prescribe one or more to get your asthma symptoms under control. What medications you take will depend on your age, triggers, and severity of symptoms. It may take time to figure out what works best for your symptoms.
Many people take a daily, inhaled corticosteroid. You may also take a combination inhaler that contains a corticosteroid and a long-acting beta-agonist (LABA). Other drugs used to reduce asthma symptoms include oral medications called leukotriene modifiers, rescue inhalers known as short-acting beta-agonists, allergy medications, and either oral or intravenous corticosteroids.