Almost 25 million Americans from all different walks of life suffer from a chronic respiratory disease called asthma.

Asthma is a lifelong condition managed both with medication and lifestyle choices, namely avoiding the things that trigger your asthma. But asthma doesn’t stop people from doing the things they love – it just requires following a plan to manage symptoms.

Do you suffer from coughing, wheezing, or regular shortness of breath or chest tightness? Does it happen more often after exposure to allergens like pollen or dander?

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about living with asthma.

Asthma Definition

Asthma is a condition characterized by inflamed airways, typically your bronchial tubes. If you have asthma, your airways will be narrowed by inflammation and will also produce extra mucus in your tubes.

The extra mucus irritates your airways, and it also often leads to the dripping sensation in the back of your throat that triggers coughing episodes.

Asthma is a chronic, lifelong condition. For some, it’s little more than a nuisance causing mild to moderate discomfort. However, those with more severe forms of asthma may suffer from episodes commonly known as asthma attacks, which can be life-threatening particularly when left untreated.

Asthma Symptoms

The most common symptoms of asthma are the result of the inflammation of your bronchial tubes.

Because a person with asthma suffers from inflammation or additional mucus in their airways, the body suffers from symptoms related to irritation and attempts to clear the secretion from the airways.

Those who suffer from asthma experience symptoms like:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing, especially at night or when lying down
  • Chest tightness
  • Shortness of breath

Signs of Worsening Asthma

Asthma symptoms are managed with medication and the avoidance of asthma triggers. But some people may find their asthma getting worse despite the use of medication.

The following symptoms are signs that your condition is possibly growing worse:

  • Asthma symptoms are more prevalent and more uncomfortable than before
  • Breathing is beginning to suffer
  • Greater number of asthma attacks or warnings leading to more frequent use of quick-relief inhalers

If you have been diagnosed with asthma and are following your treatment plan and are experiencing the above symptoms, visit your doctor to discuss your worsening symptoms.

Diagnosing Asthma

If you experience one or more of the symptoms listed above, it’s time to visit your doctor.

Doctors diagnose asthma at any age, so even if you were not diagnosed as a child, you might still receive a diagnosis as an adult.

The diagnostic process begins with a detailed medical history that highlights your general health as well as any conditions that may affect your airways such as allergies or recent bouts of bronchitis or pneumonia.

Your doctor then performs a physical exam. The exam includes many of the normal tests, like blood pressure, but focuses more intently on your lungs. Your physician will use their stethoscope to listen to your lungs for evidence strange sounds like crackling or to better identify the source of wheezing.

If your doctor suspects asthma is likely, they’ll provide you with a lung function test, often using a spirometer.

A spirometer is a small device that measures your ability to expel air from your lungs. You’ll be asked to put your mouth on the machine and take a deep breath in before exhaling as forcefully as possible. You may be asked to do this a few times to capture the largest measurements and look for consistency between the figures.

Combined with the physical exam and medical history, the results of a spirometer indicate whether asthma is an appropriate diagnosis.

In some cases, your physician may opt to take an x-ray of your chest or sinuses. These x-rays pinpoint other potential or comorbid problems so that the doctor can provide a precise diagnosis.

Types of Asthma

Asthma is a blanket term referring to the chronic inflammation of airways and production of excess mucus. However, there are several types of asthma and the type often indicates how asthma may be treated.

Allergy-Induced Asthma

Allergy-induced asthma is characterized by its triggers. In most cases, asthma caused by allergies flares up after exposure to airborne allergens like pollen, pet dander, mold spores, or cockroach waste.

If you have allergy-induced asthma, it is likely that you are also allergic to these common irritants. It’s not uncommon for doctors to prescribe both asthma medication and allergy medicines or antihistamines to treat this kind of asthma.

You may also find that allergy-induced asthma is seasonal. If your pollen allergy causes inflammation, spring may be a particularly difficult period with significant asthma flare-ups. The same is true if you’re allergic to dust; winter may be problematic. Random exposure to pet dander or mold spores in someone’s home or another building may also trigger your asthma.

Exercise-Induced Asthma

Exercise-induced asthma doesn’t yet have a specific cause, but it is triggered by the constriction of your airways as a result of exercise.

Many asthma sufferers find their exercise-induced asthma is at its worst during the autumn or winter when the air becomes cold and dry.

Occupational Asthma

Occupational asthma is similar to allergy-induced asthma in that it is triggered by airborne irritants. In these cases, you may find that chemical fumes, dust, or gases in the air irritate your airways or cause a reaction resulting in inflammation.

Unmitigated exposure to these irritants may cause your asthma to grow worse despite treatment.

Treating Asthma

Your general physician will be able to provide you with standard treatments for asthma, which often include an inhaler. An inhaler is a small device that often includes steroids alongside other medications. To use the inhaler, you’ll place the device tightly between your lips and take a big breath in while simultaneously releasing the medication.

The use of your inhaler will depend on the type and severity of your asthma. Some people only use their inhaler in the event of an asthma attack. Those with a persistent form of asthma may use their inhaler to deliver medication every day, sometimes twice a day.

Preventing Asthma Attacks

Whether you’re 5 or 45, asthma attacks are a scary experience. When managing your asthma, it’s smarter to prevent these episodes rather than deal with them as they come.

The best mode of prevention is following the treatment plan provided by the doctor. Proper asthma management involves:

  • Taking your medicine as directed
  • Identifying and avoiding your asthma triggers
  • Carrying your inhaler and using the quick-acting medication as soon as symptoms appear

Following these instructions and checking in with your doctor as your symptoms change will help manage asthma attacks even in severe cases.

Allergies and Asthma: An Evolving Bond

For many decades, science has suggested that the bond between allergens and asthma is an intimate one. While there’s no doubt that allergens trigger asthma in some cases, the recent explosion in asthma cases both in the United States and around the world has cast some doubt on the size of the role of allergens.

The explosion of allergies among the global population is somewhat explained by what researchers call the hygiene hypothesis. According to the hygiene hypothesis, people today have more allergies because they are no longer exposed to things that challenge their immune systems during their early childhood years.

Scientists have recently discovered that although the hygiene hypothesis works well in the context of allergies, it doesn’t hold up for asthma because asthma is skyrocketing in places that aren’t being Purell’d within an inch of their lives. Additionally, asthma began to explode in the 1980s, which is well after hygiene began to improve in rich countries.

These findings are important for current, and future asthma suffers because they directly impact treatment. If science ultimately finds that allergens don’t play an important role, we may begin to see a significant change in the way asthma treated, particularly in methods directly targeting allergens. Ideally, there could be a positive change that allows doctors to better target symptoms and thus provide more accurate treatments that work faster and more effectively.

Can I Live a Normal Life with Asthma?

Yes, you can absolutely live a normal life after an asthma diagnosis. In fact, you might be surprised to know that asthma doesn’t need to limit your physical abilities at all. Even professional and elite-level athletes have asthma and still compete at the highest levels of their own sports.

Living a normal life with asthma is easy as long as you follow the care plan provided by your doctor. Because your asthma may also change over time, following your care plan also means telling your doctor if your symptoms are worsening or improving.

Although treating asthma is relatively straightforward, it also requires dialogue between you and your healthcare team. If something isn’t right, let your doctor know so that they can adjust your medication or find alternative therapies.

Do you have asthma or suspect you might have asthma? Share your tricks for living a full life with chronic respiratory disease in the comments below.

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