According to research from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), approximately 25 million Americans live with asthma. The prevalence of this condition led to the establishment of Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, when each year the AAFA and healthcare organizations around the country, including Richmond University Medical Center, raise awareness about this condition, its symptoms, and more. Here, we take a closer look at causes, triggers, and treatments to help you take control of your asthma.
What Is Asthma?
When we inhale, oxygen travels to the lungs via a complex network of airways. These airways swell and become narrow as asthma attacks occur, and mucous production can increase, making it more difficult for air to reach the lungs’ air sacs and continue normal breathing. Asthma attacks may include any or all of the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Pain or tightness in the chest
- Wheezing, especially in children
Asthma is classified by the severity of your symptoms and ranges from mild intermittent (mild, infrequent symptoms) to severe persistent (intense symptoms on most days and nights).
How to Control Your Asthma
Physicians are not sure what causes asthma, although it is generally believed that environmental factors and your family medical history play a role. Fortunately, working with an experienced ear, nose, and throat specialist can help identify the cause of your symptoms and the best treatment to provide lasting relief. Some steps you can take to reduce the impact of asthma include:
Understand Your Triggers
Triggers refer to the environmental, physical, and other cues that may spur an asthma attack. These are different for every patient, and understanding yours can reduce the frequency of symptoms. Common triggers include:
- Dust, spores, dander, pollen, and other airborne allergens
- Physical activity
- Smoke, fumes, and other irritants
- Ingested allergens, such as sulfites and some preservatives
- Flu, colds, and other respiratory viruses
- Breathing cold air
- Some medications
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Emotional distress
Understanding these triggers makes it easier to avoid them and reduce symptoms.
Reduce Risk Factors
Some conditions and situations increase your risk for asthma attacks. While not all risks can be avoided, the following lifestyle changes can help minimize yours:
- Quitting smoking
- Avoiding second-hand smoke
- Seeking treatment for allergies
- Losing weight if you are overweight or obese
- Reducing exposure to workplace irritants
Follow Your Asthma Plan
Your physician can devise an asthma plan to help reduce the frequency of your asthma attacks and the intensity of your symptoms. As with any treatment plan, you must take all medications as prescribed and keep your physician apprised of any changes in your symptoms. Asthma plans commonly include:
- Trigger identification and avoidance
- Measuring and recording your breathing with a peak airflow monitor
Overall, this plan should help prevent asthma attacks before they begin.
Medications and Other Treatments
While there is currently no cure for asthma, many effective treatments are available to help manage its symptoms. Treating asthma typically requires a combination of medications to reduce the number of attacks you experience. These include:
- Quick-relief (rescue) medications: Most patients use a quick-relief inhaler that provides immediate relief for symptoms. In some cases, your physician may advise you to use a rescue inhaler before activity.
- Long-term medications: These prescriptions are taken daily and help keep asthma under control day-to-day.
When medications fail to provide relief, some patients may undergo therapies that help keep the airways from tightening in response to triggers.
Learn More About Asthma Treatment Today
While many Americans live with asthma, you do not need to cope with this condition alone. At Richmond University Medical Center in Staten Island, New York, the Center for Advanced ENT, Sinus, and Voice Care provides comprehensive care to help patients reduce asthma attacks and live more comfortably. To schedule a consultation or learn more, please call 718-818-1855 today.