Controlling Your Asthma
Summertime often includes outdoor activities and hot, humid weather, factors that can worsen the symptoms for asthma sufferers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 17 million people today have asthma. A recent study conducted at Johns Hopkins Medical School suggested that the number of people suffering from asthma will double in the next 20 years, which means one person in 14 will have asthma.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a lung disease in which the airways in the lungs are extra sensitive to allergens or irritants in the air, such as pollen, mold, pets and tobacco smoke. These allergens or irritants cause the airways in the lungs to become inflamed and narrow, producing mucus. The mucus clogs the airway, and the muscles around the airways tighten, further blocking the flow of air to the lungs. As a result, the person has difficulty breathing and experiences an asthma attack.
What are the signs of an asthma attack?
Asthma attacks are serious. If the proper steps are not taken during an attack, it can lead to death. The warning signs of an asthma attack include:
- coughing or wheezing
- shortness of breath
- tightness in the chest
- peak flow 20 percent below your best (see instructions below for how to use a peak flow meter)
What triggers an asthma attack?
A number of irritants and allergens can trigger an asthma attack, such as:
- air pollution
- certain foods
- changes in temperature
- deodorants (spray-on)
- sinus infections
- sulfite (found in red wine, beer, soups and other foods)
- tobacco smoke
How do I keep my asthma under control?
Avoid irritants and allergens when possible: It is important (when possible) to avoid the things that trigger your attacks. If you are allergic to pollen, try to stay inside air-conditioned places, especially during the afternoon when the pollen count is usually at its highest. If indoor mold triggers your asthma attacks, be sure to clean bathrooms, kitchens and basements often, and keep the humidity level down by using an air conditioner or dehumidifier. Also, don’t allow smoking in your house or car. To prevent dust mites, wash pillowcases, bedding and carpet regularly, and avoid stuffed animals and dried flowers that catch dust easily.
Use a peak flow meter: This is a hand-held device that measures how fast you can breathe air out of your lungs. Knowing your peak flow can help you recognize an asthma attack in its early stages. Measuring your peak flow is quick and simple. Take a deep breath and blow as hard as you can into the mouthpiece of the peak flow meter. Do this three times, and record your best result, or your “peak flow.” When you feel the symptoms of an asthma attack coming on, measure your peak flow using the steps mentioned above. If your peak flow is down by 20 percent or more from your normal peak flow, this may be an indication of an oncoming asthma attack.
Take medicines prescribed by your doctor: Your doctor will probably prescribe an inhaler that helps dilate, or open, the airways and reverse symptoms of asthma. If your asthma is a frequent problem, you may also need an anti-inflammatory (or steroid) inhaler. There are also other asthma medications that can be used. Your doctor will work with you to determine the best combination for you.
When should I see the doctor?
If you suffer from asthma, it is important to maintain a close and open relationship with your primary care physician. Talk to your doctor if you think your symptoms are getting worse, if your medication isn’t helping, or if your peak flow falls below 50 percent of your best. Your doctor will work with you to determine if you need to change medicines. He or she can also discuss different lifestyle changes that you can make to help relieve your symptoms.