What is asthma?
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that affects the airways in the lungs in several ways. Asthma can affect people differently, but the most common symptoms are chest tightness, coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Although asthma affects all ages, more children are diagnosed with the disease than adults. Asthma can range from mild to severe and can be life threatening. A person with asthma may have normal breathing one moment and struggling for air the next. The severity of asthma also varies from one person to the next.
Common warning signs and symptoms of asthma include:
- Coughing. Often worse at night or early in the morning, making it hard to sleep.
- Wheezing. A whistling or squeaky sound that occurs when you breathe.
- Chest tightness. Feels like something is squeezing your chest.
- Shortness of breath. Can't catch your breath or can't get air out of your lungs.
What makes asthma worse?
A person with asthma has the disease all the time, but there are a number of factors, also known as triggers, that can make asthma worse and cause an asthma attack. Triggers that lead to an asthma attack can vary widely from one person to another, so it’s important that a person know what their asthma triggers are. Some examples are exposure to allergens (dust, animal dander, cockroaches, mold, and pollen); irritants (tobacco smoke, pollution, chemicals, dust, and sprays); medicines (aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs); sulfites in foods and drinks; viral infections such as colds; strenuous activity, and strong emotions. Some people only have occasional symptoms (such as with exercise) while others live with symptoms every day.
What does an asthma attack look like in the lungs? The muscles in the airways tighten. This is called bronchoconstriction. The airways become swollen or inflamed and get clogged with mucus, so less air gets in and out of the lungs making it very hard to breathe. The air inside the tiny sacs (alveoli) in the lungs is trapped and not able to move in or out.
How can I control my asthma?
If you or someone you know with asthma, is having symptoms regularly, your asthma is not well controlled. To be in control of your asthma, means you are free of symptoms and episodes or attacks, not needing to use your reliever medications, participating in normal activity, (which includes exercise) and you have a normal lung function.
Learn the messages below to keep your asthma in control and live a healthy, normal life.
- Take medications correctly.
- Know the difference between ‘controller’ and ‘reliever’ medicine.
- Know to use your devices. (e.g., spacer, nebulizer, and valved holding chamber)
- Take your controller meds, even if you are not having asthma symptoms.
- Identify/avoid environmental exposures and self-monitor to avoid an asthma attack.
- Know your triggers. (e.g., allergens, irritants, tobacco smoke)
- Know to assess your level of asthma control.
- Recognize early signs and symptoms of worsening asthma.
- See a healthcare provider.
- See your healthcare provider regularly. Ask questions.
- Together with your healthcare provider develop an Asthma Action Plan.
- Use your Asthma Action Plan to keep your asthma in control.
- Share what you learn about asthma with those involved in your asthma management.