Ask a Health Care Professional – Asthma

By Adem Lewis / in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , /

EUGENE SUN: Do you or a family member have wheezing, coughing, or shortness of breath
and you don’t know why? It may be asthma causing those symptoms. I’m Dr. Eugene
Sun, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico.
Asthma is a disease that affects your lungs and makes it harder to breath. In the United
States, it is estimated that nearly 17 million adults and over 6 million children suffer
from asthma. Asthma is caused by chronic inflammation and
irritation of the bronchial tubes, the air passages that allow air to flow into and out
of the lungs. It is not clearly understood why some people get asthma and others don’t.
Some factors that can trigger an asthma attack include cold air, irritants in the air, stress,
exercise, and certain medications. Some irritants are known as allergens, which
are substances that most people do not have any reaction to, but with people with asthma
can cause an abnormal response that leads to an asthma attack. Common allergens that
trigger asthma include pollen from weeds, grass, and trees, pet dander, dust mites,
and mold. In a person with asthma, the body’s immune system senses those allergens and releases
substances to remove them from the body. Those substances cause constriction of the bronchial
airways, leading to coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
Asthma attacks can range in severity from mild attacks to severe, life-threatening attacks.
Mild attacks are generally more common and respond quickly to treatment with an inhaler
medication. Severe attacks include symptoms such as very rapid breathing, severe chest
tightness, difficulty speaking, blue lips or fingernails. These attacks are medical
emergencies and people experiencing them should seek immediate emergency medical care. Asthma can be diagnosed by your doctor using
your medical history, family history, review of the symptoms you are having, a physical
exam, and testing of how well your lungs are working. A commonly used test is called spirometry,
which measures how much air your lungs can take in and out, and how fast. If you have
allergy symptoms in addition to breathing issues, your doctor may refer you for specialized
allergy testing to determine which allergens may be affecting you.
While there is no cure for asthma, there are steps one can take to keep it under control.
It is important to know and understand the warning signs of an impending attack. Avoid
contact with substances that you know trigger an attack. Work with your doctor to develop
an asthma action plan, which is a written plan to help you control your asthma. Your
asthma action plan lists the medications you should be taking, what doses, and when to
take them. It also tells you how to control your asthma long term as well as what to do
if your asthma gets worse, including when to call your doctor or go to the emergency
room. By knowing and understanding asthma and how
it affects your body, and working closely with your physician to create and follow your
personal asthma action plan, you can control your asthma. In doing so you will have less
symptoms of wheezing or shortness of breath, sleep better, and you will miss less school
or work and be able to do the physical activities you want to do. Take the proper steps to control
your asthma today! [MUSIC ENDS]

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