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WHAT IS ASTHMA?
You may not think of asthma as a killer disease. Yet nearly 6000 Americans die from asthma each year. Asthma also accounts for 3 million emergency room visits and 500,000 hospitalizations annually. It is a chronic condition that needs to be taken seriously, but with careful management asthma can be effectively controlled. Asthma is a chronic condition that occurs when the main air passages of your lungs, the bronchial tubes, become inflamed. The muscles of the bronchial walls tighten and extra mucous is produced, causing your airway to narrow. This makes it difficult for air to enter or exit the lung passageways. This can lead to everything from minor wheezing to severe difficulty in breathing.
WHAT CAUSES SOMEONE TO DEVELOP ASTHMA?
A family history of asthma is often one of the indicators for the disease. Asthma can develop at any age, even well into your 70's and beyond. If you are younger than the age of 30, your asthma is probably triggered by allergies. 40-70% of people over the age of 30 with asthma are also allergic to airborne particles. For the rest of adults with asthma, particularly older adults, respiratory allergies don't seem to play a role. Instead, exposure to any irritant may cause wheezing. The following are a few common triggers/irritants that may bring on an asthma attack:
- allergens( allergic agents) such as pollen, molds, certain insects, animal dander
- air pollutants and irritants
- smoking and second-hand smoke
- respiratory infections including the common cold and the flu
- physical exertion including exercise
- changes in weather or temperature
- certain medications, both prescription and non-prescription
- certain food additives
- emotional stress
This is not a complete list of the factors that may cause an episode of asthma. Something that triggers an asthma attack for one person may not affect a different person. Pay attention to what causes an attack, and where you are when it occurs so that you can avoid the same situations in the future. It is also possible for an asthma attack to occur without any obvious triggers.
HOW IS ASTHMA TREATED?
Two commonly used mechanisms to control asthma are trigger avoidance and medication. Avoidance of allergens known to trigger asthma attacks is often an effective strategy for people who have asthma that is strictly triggered by allergies. The second method of control is medication prescribed by your doctor. Mild asthma may be treated with a prescription medication called a bronchodilator, which helps airways to allow air to move more freely. More severe asthma may be treated with a combination of bronchodilators and anti-inflammatory medications, which help reduce swelling in the air passages.
Allergen avoidance and medication are often used in conjunction to control asthma.Â Some common ways to avoid asthma attack triggers are:
- if you have a pet, bathe them weekly to reduce the dander on the skin
- do not allow smoking in your home
- stay indoors in the air conditioning on summer days that the pollen/mold counts are high
- wear a scarf over your mouth and nose in winter/cold weather
- wash all bedding, clothes, and stuffed toys weekly in hot water
- use a dehumidifier in damp areas such as basements and bathrooms
- obtain a yearly flu shot, and wash hands frequently to avoid a cold or stay active and develop an exercise plan with your doctor
WHEN TO SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE
There are 3 key circumstances when you should talk to your doctor. 1. If you think you have asthma: wheezing, difficulty in breathing, pain or tightening in your chest or coughing without any other symptoms, may be signs of asthma.
If you've been diagnosed with asthma: if you've been diagnosed with asthma talk to your doctor about ways to manage your condition. Working as a team, you and your doctor can develop a plan to help you control symptoms, prevent another attack, or stop an attack in progress.
If your prescribed medication is not working: be sure to contact your doctor right away if your usual medication does not relieve your symptoms. Readjustment of dosages or new a change in medication may be necessary. Never change medications or dosages without speaking with your doctor first.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding asthma please email or call the Health Department at 748-1118 to speak with a nurse for further information.
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