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What is asthma?

Asthma is a condition in which the airways become inflamed and narrow. They swell and produce extra mucus which It makes it difficult to breathe. Periods of recurring wheezing (whistling sound on breathing) occurs along with chest tightness, shortness of breath and coughing. It’s important for individuals with asthma to have an asthma action plan to manage their symptoms throughout the year as well as during an emergency. You should discuss it with your doctor or book a tele appointment with doctor online for professional guidance.

Before we get into the details of asthma here are some fun facts to note.

  • The number of people with asthma are increasing every year in the U.S.
  • 1 in 12 (25 million) people have asthma
  • Asthma cost the US about $56 billion in medical costs, lost school and work days, and early deaths in 2007
  • More than half the people with asthma tend to have an asthma attack, more children than adults

What happens during an asthma attack?

For a better understanding of asthma, you need to understand how the airways work. Airways are hollow tubes that allow the exchange of air into and out of the lungs. In asthma, these airways become inflamed, swollen and sensitive to inhaled substances. The muscles around the airways tighten as a result of this sensitivity narrowing the tube and making it difficult for air to pass through. The cells within the airways start producing excess mucus and swelling becomes worse further worsening the situation.

Signs and symptoms of asthma

Asthma signs and symptoms can vary from mild to severe. For some people it might just be a minor issue while for others it can be very serious and affect daily activities. Some common signs and symptoms include:

  • Coughing. Coughing is often worse at night or early in the morning, making it hard to sleep.
  • Wheezing. Wheezing is a whistling or squeaky sound that occurs when you breathe.
  • Chest tightness. This may feel like something is squeezing or sitting on your chest.
  • Shortness of breath. Some people who have asthma say they can't catch their breath or they feel out of breath. You may feel like you can't get air out of your lungs.

Mild asthma symptoms usually get better with treatment by asthma medication. Moderate or severe symptoms might take longer to treat or may even worsen causing a severe asthma attack. Acute asthma attacks are also called flare-ups or exacerbations.

If you experience these symptoms it doesn’t necessarily mean you have asthma, but it also doesn’t guarantee you don’t. To make sure contact your doctor as soon as possible or make a tele-appointment with doctor with the online doctor app My live doctors. Online medical consultations are not only quick and convenient but they save time and money too!

Signs of worsening asthma

  • When asthma symptoms become more frequent and bothersome
  • Increased breathing difficulty
  • Using inhaler more frequently

When should you see a doctor?

When asthma symptoms become severe it can cause an exacerbated asthma attack, in which case it can be life threatening. Signs of an asthma emergency include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Worsening shortness of breath
  • No or little relief of symptoms after using inhaler
  • Shortness of breath during minimal activity

You should talk to your doctor about what measures you should take in an emergency asthma attack when your symptoms worsen and when you need emergency treatment. Online health services can help you connect to online doctors with a few clicks on your smartphone. Telemedicine apps like My live doctors can provide online medical consultation and work with you to devise an asthma action plan that you can use during an emergency.

Sometimes asthma symptoms flare up in particular situations such as exercise (exercise-induced asthma), at work if you’re exposed to harsh chemicals or irritants (occupational asthma) or when it’s triggered by allergens such as dust/pollen (allergy-induced asthma).

What causes asthma?

There are several triggers of asthma or things that can worsen asthma symptoms when you come into contact with them.

  • Allergens from dust, animal fur, cockroaches, mold, and pollens from trees, grasses, and flowers
  • Irritants such as cigarette smoke, air pollution, chemicals or dust in the workplace, compounds in home décor products, and sprays (such as hairspray)
  • Medicines such as aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and nonselective beta-blockers
  • Sulfites in foods and drinks
  • Viral upper respiratory infections, such as colds
  • Physical activity, including exercise

Asthma signs and symptoms are triggered by different things for different people and they react differently too. Your doctor will help you find out some of the triggers. Sometimes asthma symptoms are mistaken for allergy symptoms. Find doctors online for quick relief of allergy symptoms.

How do you diagnose asthma?

Diagnosis of asthma is based on a detailed history and examination of patient. The only way to confirm the diagnosis however is to check how your lungs are working by getting Pulmonary function tests. These tests measure the amount of air you breathe in and out and how fast you can blow air out. It also detects how your airway reacts to certain exposures.

Asthma treatment

To effectively control asthma you will need to team up with your doctor to manage asthma symptoms. There are certain points to note in asthma management:

  • Extensively work with your doctor to manage symptoms and other conditions that may interfere or influence asthma management
  • Avoid allergens or triggers that may illicit an asthma attack or worsen symptoms

Asthma is treated with short-acting or ‘rescue’ medication that provide quick relief of symptoms and long-acting medication that are taken over a longer period of time.

Short-acting medications include

  • Ventolin inhalers which are quick to open the airway and act within minutes to relieve asthma symptoms
  • Ipratropium or Atrovent inhalers which are also bronchodilators and work quickly to relax the airway.
  • Oral/Inhaled steroids are used for severe asthma symptoms.
  • Long-acting medication include:
  • Inhaled steroids and Beta agonists, both of which reduce inflammation and need to be used days or weeks ahead of an asthma attack to ensure maximum benefit. Beta agonists should be used in combination with steroids.
  • Leukotriene moderators are taken orally and help relieve asthma symptoms for up to 24 hours.

Bottom line

While there is no cure for asthma, it can be managed effectively enough for it not to hinder daily life activities. Just follow doctor’s orders monitor your symptoms, pace yourself and stay healthy. For more information or professional guidance please visit