A chronic condition
Wheezing and coughing with shortness of breath may be signs of something serious. Asthma is a chronic condition that occurs when the air passages of the lungs, the bronchial tubes, become inflamed and narrowed. The muscles of the bronchial walls tighten and extra mucus is produced, causing the airway openings to shrink. This can lead to everything from minor wheezing to severe difficulty in breathing. In some cases, breathing may be so labored that an asthma attack becomes life-threatening. An estimated 25 million Americans suffer from asthma, including 6.2 million children under the age of 18. Nearly 1.8 million emergency room visits were attributed to asthma in 2010 and over 3,600 deaths occurred in the U.S. as a result of asthma. In 2013, the lung disease accounted for an estimated 10.1 million lost work days among employed adults. There is no cure for asthma but it is treatable with the aid of medications and lifestyle changes.
Do you find yourself coughing late at night or early in the morning, making it difficult to sleep? Are you constantly out of breath or do you make a whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe? Does it feel like someone is squeezing your chest? These are some of the most common symptoms of asthma. Not all people who have asthma have these symptoms. Likewise, having these symptoms doesn’t always mean that you have asthma. The best way to diagnose asthma for certain is to use a lung function test, a medical history, including type and frequency of symptoms, and a physical exam. The types of asthma symptoms you have, how often they occur, and how severe they are may vary over time. Sometimes your symptoms may just annoy you. Other times, they may be troublesome enough to limit your daily routine. Severe symptoms can be fatal. It’s important to treat symptoms when you first notice them so they don’t become severe.
Stress is a trigger
The exact cause of asthma is not known, it’s likely to be a combination of several things. Lung infections, cigarette smoke, air pollution, cold air or changes in weather and strong odors from painting have all been determined to be irritants for those with asthma. One of the most prevalent triggers is stress. Since stress is a part of daily life and can’t be avoided, developing ways to manage stress can help the asthma patient prevent shortness of breath and avoid panic. Getting enough sleep will decrease your stress level as well as the chances of an asthma attack. A person with asthma should be aware that not taking their medicines regularly, especially inhaled steroids or long acting medications, will interfere with their sleep and at times can be life-threatening. Having an action plan, involving more medications and use of Emergency medical Services, may save an asthmatics life. If you have asthma, ask your specialist for a written action plan.
Everyone who has asthma will need quick-relief medicines to help relieve their symptoms when they flare up. Inhaled short-acting beta2-agonists, such as albuterol or pirbuterol, are the first choice for quick relief. These medicines act quickly to relax tight muscles around your airways when you’re having a flare-up. This allows the airways to open up so air can flow through them. You should take your quick-relief medicine when you first notice asthma symptoms. If you use this medicine more than two days a week, talk with your doctor about your asthma control. You may need to make changes to your asthma action plan. Carry your quick-relief inhaler with you at all times in case you need it. If your child has asthma, make sure that anyone caring for him or her has the child’s quick-relief medicines, including staff at the child’s school. They should understand when and how to use these medicines and when to seek medical care for your child.
Change your filters
Although many people with asthma rely on medications to relieve symptoms and control inflammation, there are several things they can do to you can do to lessen the possibility of attacks. Do not run out of your medications. They will not be there to help you in the middle of the night when you are short of breath and need them. Cold-weather exercises, such as skiing, are more likely to cause wheezing. If you do exercise in cold weather, wear a face mask to warm the air you breathe. Air conditioning helps reduce exposure to airborne pollen from trees, grasses and weeds and also lowers indoor humidity. Change the filters in your furnace and air conditioner according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you’re allergic to dander, avoid pets with fur, especially cats, and keep the pet out of your bedroom. If you wear contact lenses, try substituting eyeglasses when the pollen count is high as pollen grains can become trapped under the lenses.
Trusted by thousands of listeners every week, T. Glenn Pait, M.D., began offering expert advice as the host of UAMS’ “Here’s to Your Health” program in 1996. Dr. Pait began working at UAMS in 1994 and has been practicing medicine for over 20 years.