What you need to know about Asthma
June 15, 2022
By James A. Rowley, M.D., Department of Internal Medicine
Asthma is a common cause of shortness of breath. It is a chronic disease that affects the airways of your lungs. In asthma, the airways (or tubes that carry the air into your lungs) are narrowed due to inflammation, mucus and squeezing of the muscles that surround the airways. This narrowing makes it hard to breathe.
It is estimated that 20 million adults and 5 million children are diagnosed with asthma in the United States. In children, asthma is more common in boys but in adults, it is more common in women. African-Americans and Hispanic Americans are also more likely to be diagnosed with asthma and are more likely to have severe disease. You are also more likely to have asthma if live in areas with a heavy concentration of industries such as oil refineries (such as southeast Detroit) and power plants.
What are common symptoms of Asthma?
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing that is not usually associated with phlegm production
- Chest tightness (like someone is squeezing your chest)
What are common triggers of asthma symptoms?
- Allergens such as dog or cat dander, pollens from trees/grasses, dust mites/cockroaches
- Strong odors such as those from perfumes/colognes, cleaning materials (bleach)
- Tobacco smoke
- Cold temperatures
- Viral illnesses such as the common cold
How is asthma diagnosed?
If you think you have symptoms of asthma, talk to your primary care physician. After performing a good history and physical, he/she may perform pulmonary function testing to help confirm the diagnosis. He/she may also refer you to a pulmonologist, an internal medicine specialist who specializes in lung disease.
How is asthma treated?
Asthma is generally treated in two primary ways:
- Avoidance of triggers: very important for asthmatics to avoid triggers that worsen their symptoms.
- Inhaled medications: most asthmatics require long-term maintenance inhalers to control their symptoms. These inhalers generally contain steroids to decrease the inflammation in the lungs. Most asthmatics are also prescribed a rescue inhaler, usually albuterol, to use if they get significantly short of breath.
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