Why can’t you breathe?
While at the store, you suddenly feel short of breath, start coughing and making a horrible wheezing noise. Someone offers to help you, but you wave them away, pull out your inhaler and take a deep breath of the medication, repeat this a second time, and within a few minutes, you are able to speak. If you don’t have Asthma, you might not sympathize, but if you are living with it on a daily basis, an attack can be like this or worse. If you have been recently diagnosed with Asthma, what does this mean for your day-to-day life?
Asthma is a disease that inflames the linings of your airways. The muscles around your lungs can get tight, causing the airways to narrow and not perform normally. This is why people who have Asthma will cough, feel short of breath, have chest tightness and experience wheezing. This condition is chronic, or long-term, but thankfully non-contagious. The symptoms can get significantly worse suddenly, called an Asthma attack. This can be life-threatening, requiring immediate medical help. The frequency and severity of Asthma attacks is directly related to how well-controlled your Asthma is. Asthma is broken down into two different levels: intermittent and persistent. Persistent is then further broken down into mild, moderate and severe. A variety of factors dictate into which group you are classified, such as how often you have symptoms, how often you use your rescue inhaler, how frequently you are unable to do normal activities because of your Asthma, nighttime awakenings, and how well you are breathing based on testing completed by a doctor.
What determines which type of Asthma you have?
- Intermittent Asthma is the mildest form, but still puts you at risk for an Asthma attack. It typically means you are prevented from doing your normal activities or need to use your rescue inhaler less than two days a week.
- Persistent Asthma is when symptoms limit your activities more often.
- Mild Persistent Asthma occurs more than two days a week, but not every day. This can mean using your inhaler and having some minor limitations to your activities. With this classification, you usually have a normal score on your breathing tests. Often your Asthma will wake you three to four times a month.
- Moderate Persistent Asthma is when you have symptoms every day, are awakened at least once a week, and may need to use your rescue inhaler every day. Often you will be restricted on some regular activities, and breathing tests will show limitations.
- Severe or uncontrolled Persistent Asthma is when you have symptoms throughout the day, every day, or wake up every night. You will probably have restrictions on daily activities and low scores on breathing tests.
There are numerous types of medications for controlling Asthma, and each one focuses on a certain element. Quick-relief medications, such as an inhaler, are used to aid in opening up the airways when symptoms are actively occurring. For some people who only have symptoms twice a week or less, this may be the only form of management they need. Long-term control medications are used on a daily basis to help manage symptoms. There are two main types: maintenance inhaler (not the same as a rescue inhaler) and pills. Both of these may be prescribed together because they work differently within the body (the inhaler directly in the lungs and the pills throughout the rest of the body). The list of different medications and treatment options is quite extensive, and your doctor is the one who will determine which one is best for you. On a side note, allergy and flu shots help reduce your chance of being sick and thus triggering an Asthma attack.
There are several risk factors, or triggers, that influence the severity of your Asthma. Triggers are allergens, irritants or conditions that cause symptoms to get worse. By knowing your triggers, you can try to avoid them and reduce your chance of having an Asthma attack. Some allergens that are the most common culprits of Asthma flare-ups are cockroaches, dust mites, indoor mold, pets and pollen/outdoor mold. Irritants can be things like strong odors/sprays and smoke (fireplace or tobacco). Conditions that can affect Asthma are cold/respiratory infections, food sensitivities, exercise, weather and stress. The key to preventing any significant attack is to manage your Asthma symptoms and to avoid your triggers when possible. This might require having allergy testing and some investigation into your activities when you have a flare-up in order to find out your exact triggers. Even when you do everything in your power to control your Asthma, at some point you will probably need to be on medication.
It is possible to have a long, happy life with Asthma. The most important advice is to control your symptoms, know your limitations and take your medication as prescribed. If you have any question or concerns, please speak with you doctor. For further information about Asthma, please visit www.asthma.com.