Overview of Asthma
Asthma is defined as a chronic disease where the airways are inflamed. Asthma makes it very difficult for people to breathe. When something triggers asthma, it causes the airways to become swollen and the muscles begin to tighten. Some symptoms may include: wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing. These symptoms are usually related to physical activity. People that have asthma usually have a family history of asthma and are more prone to allergies.
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The triggers for asthma vary between each person. It is imperative that you keep track of what triggers your asthma. The most common triggers are usually: allergens, exercise, weather, medications, emotions, illness, or irritants that are found in the air.
People with asthma will typically experience chest tightness, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and many other nighttime symptoms. Chest tightness is described as a heavy weight on the chest and it makes it very difficult to get a good deep breath. Some people will have anxiety because of this symptom. This symptom should never be ignored because it could lead into an asthma attack.
Coughing is a symptom of asthma can be described as either productive or non-productive. A productive cough can help to push away mucus and bacteria away from the lungs. Typically, people with asthma have a non-productive cough. This type of cough is usually dry and causes the bronchial tubes to contract. This can be especially bad at night.
Wheezing is a high-pitched noise that occurs when you breathe. This can sometimes sound like a whistle. Wheezing typically occurs when someone is having an asthma attack.
Shortness of breath can also be called fast breathing. When this occurs, some people say that they are not able to breathe fast enough, deep enough, and essentially feel that they are running out of air. This is a subjective symptom, which means that your physician can not test it.
People with asthma usually experience severe nighttime symptoms. They will experience coughing, wheezing, and trouble breathing. Your lung function is at its best around 4 pm and is at its worst around 4 am.
There are a couple of ways to check for asthma. A diagnosis can be done through a lung function test, a physical exam, methacholine test, imaging test, sputum eosinophil, blood test, or bronchial biopsy.
A lung function test can be performed one of three ways, through a body box plethysmograph, asthma peak flow, or spirometry. A Body Box Plethysmograph is a test that shows your physician how much air your lungs can hold and how much air is left in your lungs when you breathe out. This will show your physician how well your lungs are working. A peak flow measurement shows the amount of air coming out of the lungs and the rate the air is coming out. Spirometry is the most common lung function test. It measures how much air you inhale, how much air you exhale, and how quickly this can be done.
Your physician may also recommend a physical exam. A physical exam usually begins with a series of questions to see what you are going through. You will want to keep track of triggers and what symptoms you have. Your physician will then look at your nose, throat, and upper airways. The physician will also want to listen to the lungs for signs of wheezing.
A methacholine challenge test shows how your lungs react to the environment. You will take a breathing test after each dose of methacholine. An imaging test will not show a true asthma diagnosis, but your physician may recommend one to make sure there is not anything else happening in the lungs. A sputum eosinophil will require for you to cough up mucus. Once you have done this, your physician will send the sample off for testing. A blood test will measure the eosinophils in the blood. A bronchial biopsy will occur when you are asleep. The physician will then place a bronchoscope down your nose or throat to collect tissue samples.
After you have a confirmed asthma diagnosis, your physician will begin talking with you about asthma treatments. There are a couple of treatments that your physician may recommend, including an anti-inflammatory steroid, biologics, bronchodilators, inhalers, or nebulizers.
The first step to treating asthma is an anti-inflammatory steroid since they help to control asthma and prevent asthma attacks. This is done by reducing inflammation, swelling, and mucus production. This may take 1-3 weeks for symptoms to improve.
Biologics are defined as genetically engineered proteins. They focus on treating the cellular changes that have occurred instead of just treating the symptoms. This is mainly recommended or people with mild to moderate asthma.
Bronchodilators aid in relieving the symptoms of asthma by allowing the airways to open up by relaxing the muscles around the airway. Short-acting bronchodilators should be used no more than twice per week.
Inhalers are the most common form of treating asthma. This is a way to deliver drugs to the lungs and is available in a variety of different ways. This can also be used by a variety of different medications. This method has the least amount of side effects.
A nebulizer is the best alternative for an inhaler. This is typically used in young children or older adults. This makes the medication inhaled easily.
Managing your asthma is a critical part of feeling better. An asthma action plan is the first step to complete. You will want to complete this with your physician. This will show you what steps to take when you are feeling certain ways. It is also best to avoid the triggers. Another key step in feeling better is to take your asthma medications as prescribed. Be sure to work closely with your physician to make sure that those medications are working best for you and your symptoms. You may have some medications for daily use and others may be labeled as rescue medications.