Imagine all of the sudden having the feeling that you are suffocating. You’re gasping for air but are unable to catch your breath. You feel like your lungs are being squeezed and you begin to panic. You’re having an asthma attack.
For millions of Americans, this is an all-too-frequent occurrence; a nightmare that can’t be fully appreciated by those without the disorder.
Today, more Americans than ever before are suffering from asthma, making it one of the most common and costly illnesses in the U.S. Although many cases of asthma go undiagnosed, its prevalence has been increasing since 1980. And while asthma shows no bias to age, sex and racial groups, the occurrence is higher among children, African-Americans and Hispanics.
What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic inflammation of the bronchial tubes that causes swelling and constriction of the airways which results in difficulty breathing. Asthma symptoms may be activated or aggravated by many different things, and not all asthmatics react to the same triggers. Additionally, the effect that each trigger has on the lungs varies from one individual to another.
Asthma triggers fall into two categories:
- “Seasonal” pollens
- Year-round dust mites, molds, pets and insect parts
- Foods, such as fish, egg, peanuts, nuts, cow’s milk and soy
- Additives, such as sulfites
- Work-related agents, such as latex
- Respiratory infections, such as those caused by viral colds, bronchitis and sinusitis
- Drugs, such as aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and beta blockers
- Tobacco smoke
- Outdoor factors, such as smog, weather changes, and diesel fumes
- Indoor factors, such as paint, detergents, deodorants, chemicals and perfumes
- Exercise, especially under cold, dry conditions
- Work-related factors, such as chemicals, dusts, gases and metals
- Hormonal factors
How do you know if you have asthma?
The symptoms of asthma vary from person to person and in any individual from time to time. It is important to remember that many of these symptoms can be subtle and similar to those seen in other conditions. This potential confusion makes identifying the settings in which the symptoms occur and diagnostic testing very important in recognizing this disorder.
The 4 major recognized symptoms:
1. Shortness of breath, especially with exertion or at night
2. Wheezing, a whistling or hissing sound when breathing out
3. Coughing that is usually worse at night and early morning, or coughing that may occur after exercise or when exposed to cold, dry air
4. Chest tightness that occurs with or without the above symptoms
What are the best treatments for asthma?
Bronchodilators, drugs that help to relax the muscles that tighten around the airways and help to clear mucus from the lungs, are generally used to treat asthma medicinally. These medications are available both in oral and in inhalers. Doctors usually prefer the inhaled bronchodilators because they use 1,000 times less medicine than oral forms, and they are delivered directly to the lungs. Many patients also require the use of inhaled steroids or other anti-inflammatory agents. In addition to this conventional medicine, there are also alternative choices for treating asthma. Some of these unproved methods include acupressure, acupuncture, aromatherapy, herbal therapy, reflexology and yoga.
Here are three tips to help avoid triggering an asthma attack:
- Talk to a dietician about changing your diet. You should avoid foods that have high concentrations of sulfites, such as beer, wine, grapes, canned vegetables and dried fruits.
- Avoid tobacco smoke.
- Get a flu shot every year, the flu virus can trigger asthma.
*This information is intended for general knowledge and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment.