What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a long-term disease that attacks the lungs and causes the airways to become inflamed and narrow. It’s one of the most common chronic conditions found in children, but adults can suffer from asthma too. Asthma is known for causing attacks that can take several different forms. The most common symptoms of this disease are recurring wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. Asthma isn’t contagious, so there’s no danger that asthma sufferers will give the disease to someone else.
Doctors don’t understand the causes of asthma very well. However, they do know that individuals are more likely to develop asthma if their family has a history of the disease. While most patients will never know the underlying cause of their asthma, they will be able to identify different factors or environmental conditions that trigger it. In some cases, the symptoms of asthma are minor and require little or no ongoing treatment. In other cases, asthma symptoms are severe and ongoing treatment is necessary.
What Triggers Asthma Attacks?
Because asthma is a chronic condition, people who suffer from it have asthma all the time. However, they only have attacks at certain times. Finding out what triggers asthma attacks, also known as flareups or exacerbations, is essential to controlling the disease. Triggers include substances found in homes, in workplaces and outdoors.
Some of the most common asthma triggers include:
- Dust mites.
- Tobacco smoke.
- Mold and mildew.
- Outdoor pollutants.
- Pet dander.
- Extreme weather.
- Medications including acetaminophen and aspirin.
While many common allergens are asthma triggers, keep in mind that not everyone who suffers from asthma has allergies.
Other ongoing respiratory and health problems can make the symptoms of asthma worse. Individuals who are obese or suffer from obstructive sleep apnea are likely to suffer more severe symptoms. Stress, depression and acid reflux can also make asthma harder to manage.
While there is no cure for asthma, there are a variety of treatment options available to patients. The first line of defense against asthma is identifying triggers and avoiding them whenever possible. If that isn’t enough to control symptoms, doctors may prescribe either quick-relief or long-term medications. Many asthma sufferers use both.
The most popular quick-relief medications, also known as rescue medications, are:
- Short-acting beta agonists.
- Oral and intravenous corticosteroids.
- Bronchodilators such as ipratropium, sold under the brand name Atrovent.
Long-term medications commonly used to control asthma include:
- Leukotriene modifiers.
- Inhaled corticosteroids.
- Long-acting beta agonists.
- Combination inhalers.
Of course, having a proactive asthma management plan is the best way to prevent attacks. You can work with an experienced doctor to design a plan that will help you control your symptoms now and in the future.
As with most diseases, the treatment used depends on the severity of the disease and the symptoms with which individual patients struggle the most. Many asthma patients try a variety of treatment strategies during their lifetimes. Doctors and researchers also work continuously to find new treatments for asthma.