Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the function and lining of the airways or tubes of the lungs. It narrows the airways and makes it difficult to breathe.
Asthma symptoms are caused by an increased sensitivity of the airways to certain triggers. The triggers cause the lining of the airways to swell and produce extra fluid called mucus. At the same time, the muscles around the outside of the airway tighten in response to the irritation. All of these reactions narrow the airways and make it difficult to breathe. This response is often referred to as an asthma attack.
Possible triggers of an asthma attack in a person with asthma include:
Factors that may increase you risk for asthma include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your doctor may also do some tests to measure lung function. They may include:
Your doctor may also do some allergy tests. The test will help determine if allergies are causing symptoms. The test may include skin pricks or blood tests.
The treatment strategy for asthma includes:
You and your doctor should also create an asthma action plan. This is a plan you will follow to help control your asthma and handle asthma attacks.
These medications are used to relax the airways and keep them from tightening. Examples include inhaled corticosteroids and long-acting beta agonists. The medications will help to avoid asthma attacks, but will not treat an existing attack:
Prevention is an important step in asthma care. Allergy avoidance can be effective with asthma that is made worse by allergens. Some general tips for allergen avoidance include:
If allergies trigger your asthma attacks, ask your doctor about allergy shots. If you commonly have a stuffy, runny, or itchy nose, these shots may improve your asthma.
In addition, it may be helpful to learn breathing techniques or doing breathing exercises. Ask your doctor for advice.
Your asthma plan may need to be adjusted to adapt to changes in your life or health. Staying in contact with your doctor between visits can help you have better control of your asthma.
Online programs aimed at helping you manage your own symptoms can improve asthma control and lung function. Some examples of programs include American Lung Association or Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
There are no guidelines for preventing asthma because the cause is unknown. However, you can help prevent asthma attacks by avoiding things that trigger your attacks. Triggers can vary from person to person but some general guidelines include:
Talk to your doctor about:
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
Allergy Asthma Information Association
The Canadian Lung Association
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Last reviewed August 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.