Asthma – questions answered

by Jacqueline Watts, B.S., P.A. student

What is asthma?

Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases in children. It affects the airways leading to your lungs. Airways become sensitive to allergens and triggers which irritate the airways causing them to get tighter and become inflamed. Asthma is a very common reason for missed school days and hospitalizations in children. Therefore, understanding what is triggering your child’s asthma, and the best ways to avoid those triggers is paramount in helping you to feel your best.

Common triggers:

  • Seasonal allergies – pollen
  • Other allergens like pets, perfume, dust, and mold
  • Air pollution
  • Colds
  • Smoke
  • Cold weather

Symptoms

People with asthma have varying symptoms from day to day and symptoms are often worse at night and the early morning. Common symptoms include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing or “whistling sound” when breathing out
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness or pressure

During an asthma attack, breathing becomes harder as the airways narrow. This narrowing is due to the lining of airways becoming inflamed, the tightening of muscles surrounding the airways, and an increased production of mucus.

If symptoms are present only when exercising or playing sports, this is called exercise-induced asthma.

Diagnosis

To be diagnosed with asthma, people should have symptoms that recur and that are reversible after using an inhaler (albuterol). Providers can also use spirometry testing as part of diagnosing asthma. Spirometry assesses lung function by measuring how much air a person can exhale and how quickly they can do it. These lung function tests are often performed at rest, after exercise, and after using an inhaler.

Treatment

There is no cure to asthma, but there are many treatments that can keep symptoms under control. Most importantly, people can identify triggers/allergens and limit exposure to them. The first medicine is to use a short-acting rescue inhaler (albuterol) as needed for quick relief from asthma symptoms. This is a medication you take only as needed, not everyday. If asthma symptoms are not well controlled with a quick relief inhaler, or you are using the rescue inhaler more than 2 days per week, you can add on a controller medication that you take everyday to prevent asthma attacks. These controller medications are often inhaled corticosteroids (Symbicort, QVar, Pulmicort) or oral anti-inflammatories like Singulair (montelukast). Unmanaged asthma or poorly controlled asthma can lead to life-threatening asthma attacks so it is important to talk with your provider about the best way to manage symptoms and avoid triggers.

Watch this helpful video on proper usage of an inhaler with a spacer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8SXkuuv6p6w

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