What You Need to Know About Asthma

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a disease that affects the lungs. An “asthma attack” happens when something known as a trigger, bothers the lungs and causes them to swell, fill with mucus and narrow. This makes it hard for air to pass through the lungs. It then becomes hard to breathe, causing an asthma attack.

Asthma affects people of all ages. It can’t be cured, but for most people it can be well controlled by seeing the doctor regularly, taking the right medicines, and staying away from triggers.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Symptoms can differ, but some of the most common are:

  • Shortness of breath (feeling like you can’t catch your breath).
  • Wheezing (a whistling sound heard when breathing in or out).
  • A tight feeling in the chest (feeling like something is squeezing or sitting on your chest).
  • Frequent cough (a cough that may not go away and often occurs at night or early morning).

Get to know your signs and symptoms. The sooner you notice the signs of an asthma attack, the faster you can take steps to stop it.

What causes asthma?

The causes of asthma are not fully known, but people with asthma often have a family history of asthma, eczema (a skin rash), and/or hay fever (allergies).  Some things can raise the chance of having asthma. They are being near tobacco smoke, especially as a baby or young child, being overweight, and being near some chemicals.

What are some common triggers?

Common triggers that can set off asthma symptoms are:

  • A cold
  • Chemicals
  • The weather
  • Smoke
  • Dust
  • Mold

Asthma can be dangerous

When someone with asthma is exposed to a trigger, they can have a very bad allergic reaction to it. This is called anaphylaxis.  Anaphylaxis usually happens within 20 minutes of being exposed to a trigger. It can quickly become life threatening and should always be treated as a medical emergency.

The first signs of an anaphylactic reaction may look like typical allergy symptoms such as a runny nose or skin rash. But within about 20 minutes, more serious signs appear like trouble breathing, hives (itchy rash), swollen or itchy throat, vomiting, diarrhea, pale skin, and fainting.

If you or anyone around you shows signs of anaphylaxis, call 911 right away.

Asthma in Children What Parents Need to Know

To keep your child breathing easy, it’s important that you know what triggers their asthma. Then you can help your child avoid these triggers. Here are some other things you can do:

  • Children ages 4-11: Help your child take this Childhood Asthma Control Test to see if their symptoms are well controlled.
  • Children ages 12 and older: Have your child take this Asthma Control Test.
  • Ask your child’s doctor to create an Asthma Action Plan that will give you steps to take when symptoms get worse. Then share this plan with your child’s school and other caregivers (babysitter, school nurses, coaches, counselors, family, and friends).
  • Get a Peak Flow Meter to check your child’s asthma and measure how well air is moving through their airways.
  • If your child complains of a sore tummy or chest and is restless, DO NOT DELAY in starting asthma first aid. Follow the steps on their Asthma Action Plan.

How is asthma treated?

Asthma is most often treated by taking inhaled (breathed in) medicines. When you see your doctor, be sure to ask what your medicine does and why you are taking it. Also make sure you are using your puffer (inhaler) the right way. If you don’t, you won’t be getting the right dose in the right place in your airway.

How can you check to see if your asthma is under control?

Get your Asthma Score. The asthma control test will give you a score that determines how well your symptoms are being controlled. Please go over your score with your doctor.

How can you find out more about asthma?

To learn more, visit:

American Lung Association

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

Sources:

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology

American Lung Association

American Academy of Pediatrics

Asthma Australia

asthma.com

Global Initiative for Asthma

New York State Department of Health