What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that results in changes in the airway.
- Muscles become tight around the airways.
- Airway walls thicken.
- Thick mucus is produced in the airway.
- Airways become “twitchy” or are quick to react to triggers.
Asthma cannot be cured, but it can be controlled.
What are Symptoms of Asthma?
Symptoms of asthma vary from person to person. They can worsen when exposed to asthma triggers. These symptoms may include
- Coughing, which often occurs at night, with exercise, or in the cold.
- Wheezing, a whistling sound when breathing.
- Shortness of breath or the feeling of breathing through a straw.
- Chest tightness.
What Causes or Triggers Symptoms of Asthma?
People with asthma have sensitive airways that react to “triggers”. Although we do not know the exact cause of asthma, possible triggers are listed below.
- Infections (such as colds or sinus infections).
- Allergens (such as pets, dust mites, pollens, molds, or foods).
- Cold air and/or hot, humid air.
- Changes in weather.
- Irritants (such as tobacco smoke, perfume, air fresheners, or pollution).
- Emotions (such as stress, laughter, or crying).
- Aspirin or aspirin-like medicines.
The best asthma treatment plan is to avoid triggers as much as you can! Your asthma care clinic will have more information about triggers and how to avoid them.
Being around people who are smoking can cause serious harm to your lungs. To receive help to quit smoking, please call the Wisconsin Quit Line at 1-800-QUIT- NOW (784-8669).
Can Asthma Symptoms Be Controlled?
Yes. Although asthma cannot be cured, there are ways to control it. With treatment, you can exercise and sleep through the night without coughing or wheezing. It is vital to follow your asthma action plan given to you by your asthma care team. This plan includes:
- Being aware of warning signs of asthma symptoms.
- Learning about asthma triggers and how to avoid them as much as you can.
- Taking allergy and asthma medicines as prescribed to both control and relieve symptoms.
- Checking peak flows (if part of the treatment plan).
- Follow-up visits every 6 months with your asthma care clinic.
- Extra visits to your asthma clinic if symptoms worsen.
How is Asthma Treated?
You must take charge to both avoid and treat breathing problems. Asthma may be treated with the following.
- Controller (such as Flovent®, Alvesco®, Pulmicort®, Asmanex®, Advair®, Symbicort®, Dulera®, Singulair®): Medicines that are taken every day to help control airway swelling.
- Rescue (such as albuterol, Proventil®, Ventolin®, ProAir®, Xopenex®): Quick relief medicines that act within minutes to help relieve cough and wheezing by relaxing the airway muscles.
- Rescue medicines may also be used before exercise and/or allergen exposure to prevent symptoms.
- Becoming anxious can make asthma symptoms worse. Taking slow, deep breaths can help you calm down during an asthma attack.
- Regular exercise to strengthen both your heart and lungs is very important if you have asthma.
When should I call the clinic?
- If your asthma is not well controlled. If your symptoms are causing problems with sleeping, exercise, school or work.
- If you are using quick relief medicine (albuterol) 2 or more times a week during the day (except for exercise).
- If you are waking up 2 or more times a month due to asthma symptoms.
- If your asthma symptoms are worse (coughing, wheezing, chest tightness).
When should I call 911 or seek emergency care?
- Severe pulling in of neck or chest muscles to breathe
- Albuterol (rescue medicine) isn’t helping symptoms
- Not able to speak or talk because of asthma
- Lips or finger nails look blue
The Spanish version of this Health Facts for You is #6748.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 08/20/2012
Adapted 4/11/2011 with permission from Dane County Asthma Coalition 2007. HFFY #5121
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