You know the scene: a skinny, nerdy kid with glasses is in a tight spot. He starts gasping and reaches for his inhaler. A puff or two, and he’s as good as new. That’s what asthma looks like, right? Sure-in the movies! But the reality of asthma and asthma symptoms is much more complex. Read below to learn about asthma symptoms, diagnosing asthma, asthma treatment options, and more.
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that causes inflammation in the airway and can complicate normal breathing patterns. Asthma often begins in childhood, but contrary to popular Hollywood stereotypes (hello, nerdy kid!), asthma affects people of all ages. In fact, more than 25 million people have been diagnosed with asthma in the United States alone. (That’s a lot of wheezing!)
Symptoms of Asthma
Asthma symptoms in children are often the same as asthma symptoms in adults—the difference is that in children, asthma attacks are typically caused by common triggers, while adult asthma attacks are often harder to pinpoint and therefore diagnose. Typical asthma symptoms include:
- Wheezing: a squeaky, whistling sound when you breathe.
- Shortness of breath: a feeling of being unable to “catch” your breath; feeling winded. This can also feel like air is “trapped” in your lungs.
- Tightness in chest: might feel like something is sitting on or squeezing your chest.
Note: chest pain and tightness can also be a warning sign of a heart attack. If you’re concerned about your heart health, consult your primary care physician.
- Coughing: an asthma cough is typically dry (non-productive) and worse early in the morning or at night.
In addition to these typical symptoms, be on the lookout for these less common asthma symptoms:
- Rapid breathing
- Inability to properly exercise (feeling like you’re constantly out of breath)
- Anxiety & difficulty concentrating
It’s important to note that just because you’re exhibiting either typical or atypical asthma symptoms, it doesn’t mean that you will be diagnosed with asthma. You may also have asthma without presenting with any of these symptoms. Asthma is tricky, we know!
If asthma is suspected, your doctor will perform a thorough evaluation based on your family and medical histories. Your physician will perform a physical exam that may include a lung function test and possibly a chest and/or sinus x-ray. They will then determine whether you have intermittent asthma, mild asthma, moderate asthma, or severe asthma.
Asthma Treatment Options
The bad news: there is no cure for asthma. The good news: asthma treatment options are plentiful and can drastically reduce symptoms and manage flare-ups. Your doctor will work with you to come up with a great asthma treatment plan. Typically, asthma is treated with two types of medications:
- Long-Term Asthma Control Medicine
Long-term asthma control medicines will help reduce inflammation in the airway and help prevent asthma symptoms. Depending on your unique asthma symptoms, these long-term control medicines might be an inhaled steroid or a pill.
- Quick-Relief Asthma Medication
Also known as “rescue” medication, quick-relief asthma medication is used to rapidly and efficiently manage asthma flare-ups (e.g., the common “gasping for air” scenario). Quick-relief asthma medication works by opening (dilating) and relaxing your airway muscles for fast relief. These quick-relief medications are typically inhalers, but oral steroids are sometimes an option for asthma attacks that do not go away.
Controlling and Managing Your Asthma
In addition to developing an asthma treatment plan that includes medication, another important part of treating asthma is learning to manage your symptoms and avoid common triggers. With a strong asthma control plan, you can:
- Maintain good, healthy lung function
- Reduce the need for quick-relief asthma medicines
- End troubling and irritating chronic asthma symptoms (coughing, shortness of breath)
- Increase quality of sleep
- Maintain an active, healthy lifestyle
Some examples of measures you can take to take control of your lung health and prevent asthma attacks are:
- Learning your asthma triggers and avoiding them
- Keep a log of when triggers happen: What was I doing when my asthma attack began? (Making the bed, mowing the grass, grooming my pets, etc.)
- Tracking your asthma symptoms to recognize whether it’s getting better, worse, or staying the same
- Taking asthma medications as prescribed
- Working closely with your doctor to adjust your asthma management plan as needed
Common Asthma Triggers
While what triggers asthma varies from person to person, some common asthma triggers include:
- Tobacco smoke: both direct and secondhand cigarette smoke are common asthma triggers. If you smoke, stop! If your asthma is affected by secondhand smoke, avoid cigarette smoke and smokers as much as possible.
- Dust mites: these little buggers are, well, tiny bugs, and we’re sorry to say, are in almost every home. Dust mites can trigger asthma attacks—so we recommend using mattress and pillowcase covers to create a barrier between these tiny pests and yourself. Don’t use pillows, quilts, or comforters stuffed with down (sorry, we know they’re comfy!), and remove any stuffed animals/clutter from your bedroom on a regular basis. Be sure to wash your bedding weekly!
- Outdoor air pollution: there isn’t much you can do to control environmental factors that trigger asthma attacks, so your best bet is to avoid them. Pay attention to air quality reports, and avoid outdoor activity when air quality is low.
- Pets: while dogs may be man’s best friend, they’re sometimes an asthma sufferer’s nightmare! The good news is that most asthma sufferers can also be pet owners. Make sure you keep your pet out of your bedroom, bathe your pets weekly, and keep them outside as much as possible. Vacuum, sweep, and mop often.
- Mold: keep the mold in your home under control. Humidity can help mold grow, so invest in an air conditioner or dehumidifier to keep home humidity levels low. Make sure to quickly fix any water leaks.
The Lung Docs: Specialized Pulmonary Care
The Lung Docs provides specialized, state-of-the-art pulmonary care to our patients with asthma in Chattanooga and the surrounding Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia areas.
Dr. Mike’s Approach
I’m Dr. Mike Czarnecki, “The Lung Doc,” and I’m trained in all areas of pulmonary health, including the diagnosis and treatment of asthma. I will work with you to formulate a personalized asthma treatment plan so you can live, laugh, love, and breathe better again! To get started, schedule an appointment online or call our office to speak to someone directly. I can’t wait to meet you!