Frequently Asked Questions About Asthma

What is Asthma?​​

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the lungs which can make it hard to breathe. The airways become sensitive and obstructed making it difficult to get air out.

The disease affects the large tubes of the lung called the bronchial tubes. With asthma, the bronchial tubes are hyper responsive causing overreaction to allergens and irritants. This results in the tube lining becoming inflamed and the muscles surrounding the bronchial tubes squeezing the airways, making the passages very narrow and difficult for the air to go through.

As the disease persists, the inflammation of the bronchial tube lining becomes worse and worse, leading to increased mucus production and further narrowing of the airways. Over time, without treatment, the damage on the bronchial tubes can become irreversible, leading to a permanent loss of lung function.

Are There Different Types of Asthma?

There are different types of asthma. People who are diagnosed with asthma as children tend to experience different symptoms than those who are diagnosed as adults. Some asthma is more linked to allergies. Some asthma in women can be affected by changes in hormones.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Asthma?

The main symptoms of asthma are:

  • Shortness of breath, or trouble breathing - It may be a sensation of breathlessness, or not being able to get enough air in or out of your lungs.
  • Chest tightness - It may feel like something is squeezing or sitting on your chest.
  • Wheezing - A high pitched whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe.
  • Coughing - A dry, nonproductive, cough.  It is often worse at night or early in the morning.

Symptoms can vary from person to person, and not every asthmatic will have all of those symptoms. Should one or more of the above occur, from mild to extreme, contact your board certified allergist for an evaluation.

What is the Cause of Asthma?

The exact cause of asthma is unclear. It appears that asthma is the result of a combination of factors, to include genes and environment. Individuals whose parents have asthma have a higher risk of developing asthma.

Allergies also play an important role in a large number of asthmatics. It is estimated that asthma is related to allergies in up to 90% of children and 50% of adults. Allergies to dust mites, animals (cats, dogs), mold, grasses, and cockroaches have been strongly associated with asthma.

What are the Goals of Asthma Treatment?

The goals of asthma treatment are to prevent chronic and troublesome symptoms, reduce the use of rescue medicine such as albuterol, maintain near-normal pulmonary function, maintain normal activity levels, and meet the patients’ expectations of and satisfaction with their asthma care. We also want to prevent recurrent exacerbations, minimize the need for emergency room visits or hospitalizations, prevent progressive loss of lung function, and reduced lung growth in children.

What are Asthma Triggers?

Triggers are factors that can bring on an asthma attack. Controlling your environment by reducing or stopping exposure to your triggers is an important part of treatment. Every person with asthma has different triggers. The following are common triggers: dust mites, animal dander, pollens, indoor molds, cockroaches, tobacco smoke, infections, strong odors, stress, exercise, respiratory infections, and hormones. You do not have to avoid exercise if you have asthma; in fact, exercise is strongly encouraged. Premedicating with an inhaler before exercise can help reduce the risk of an asthma attack.

What Medicines are Used to Treat Asthma?

There are two main types of medicine to treat asthma: long-term control medicines (controllers) and quick relief medicines (rescue medicines). Long-term control medicines prevent symptoms and treat the disease process and inflammation. These medicines are taken daily, even if you feel well. Quick relief (rescue) medicines work quickly to open up narrowed airways when shortness of breath or other acute asthma symptoms occur.

How Do You Use an Inhaler?

There are two types of inhalers: metered dose inhalers (MDI) and dry powder inhalers. Specific instructions come with each inhaler.

What is Peak Flow Monitoring?

A peak flow meter measures how well air moves out of your lungs. The peak flow rate can be used to find out if there is narrowing of the airways. Your personal best number is the highest peak flow number you can achieve over a two-week period, when your asthma is under good control. Once you know your personal best, your doctor can adjust your treatment plan based on your numbers.

How do I Know How Severe My Asthma is?

The severity of your asthma is mainly determined by how often you have symptoms, your breathing test results, the type and amount of medications you use daily, and how often you have to use your rescue inhaler. We use the Asthma Control Questionnaire, which asks you these questions, to determine how severe your asthma is and if it has been under control. Our goal for asthma patients is to have as few symptoms as possible.


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