Asthma – A Quick Guide
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that intermittently inflames and narrows the airways. People with asthma may experience wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and coughing when the airways narrow.
How is Asthma Treated and Controlled?
Asthma is a long-term disease that has no cure. The goal of asthma treatment is to control the disease. Good asthma control will:
- Prevent chronic and troublesome symptoms, such as coughing and shortness of breath
- Reduce your need for quick-relief medicines
- Help you maintain good lung function
- Let you maintain your normal activity level and sleep through the night
- Prevent asthma attacks that could result in an emergency room visit or hospital stay
To control asthma, talk with your Care Manager and with your doctor.
Take an Active Role!
- Work with your doctor to treat other conditions that might interfere with asthma management.
- Avoid things that worsen your asthma (asthma triggers). However, one trigger you should not avoid is physical activity. Physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Talk with your doctor about medicines that can help you stay active.
- Work with your Care Manager and doctor to create and follow an asthma action plan.
What is an Asthma Action Plan?
An asthma action plan gives guidance on taking your medicines properly, avoiding asthma triggers (except physical activity), tracking your level of asthma control, responding to worsening symptoms, and seeking emergency care when needed.
Treating Asthma with Medicine
Asthma is treated with two types of medicines: long-term control and quick-relief medicines. Long-term control medicines help reduce airway inflammation and prevent asthma symptoms. Quick-relief, or “rescue”, medicines relieve asthma symptoms that may flare up.
Your initial treatment will depend on the severity of your asthma. Follow up asthma treatment will depend on how well your asthma action plan is controlling your symptoms and preventing asthma attacks.
Your level of asthma control can vary over time and with changes in your environment. These changes can alter how often you’re exposed to the factors that can worsen your asthma.
Your doctor may need to increase your medicine if your asthma doesn’t stay under control. On the other hand, if your asthma is well controlled for several months, your doctor may decrease your medicine. These adjustments to your medicine will help you maintain the best control possible with the least amount of medicine necessary.
Avoid Things That Can Worsen Your Asthma
Many common things (called asthma triggers) can set off or worsen your asthma symptoms. Once you know what these things are, you can take steps to control many of them.
For example, exposure to pollens or air pollution might make your asthma worse. If so, try to limit time outdoors when the levels of these substances in the outdoor air are high. If animal fur triggers your asthma symptoms, keep pets with fur out of your home or bedroom.
One possible asthma trigger you shouldn’t avoid is physical activity. Physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.
If your asthma symptoms are clearly related to allergens, and you can’t avoid exposure to those allergens, your doctor may advise you to get allergy shots.
Which Medicine will Work for You?
Your doctor will consider many things when deciding which asthma medicines are best for you. He or she will check to see how well a medicine works for you. Then, he or she will adjust the dose or medicine as needed.
Most asthma medicines are taken using a device called an inhaler. An inhaler allows the medicine to go directly to your lungs.
Not all inhalers are used the same way. Ask your doctor or another health care provider to show you the right way to use your inhaler. Review the way you use your inhaler at every medical visit.
All people who have asthma need quick-relief medicines to help relieve asthma symptoms that may flare up. These medicines act quickly to relax tight muscles around your airways when you’re having a flare up. This allows the airways to open up so air can flow through them.
You should take your quick-relief medicine when you first notice asthma symptoms. If you use this medicine more than 2 days a week, talk with your doctor about your asthma control. You may need to make changes to your asthma action plan.
Carry your quick-relief inhaler with you at all times in case you need it. You shouldn’t use quick-relief medicines in place of prescribed long-term control medicines. Quick-relief medicines don’t reduce inflammation.
If your control is very good, you might be able to take less medicine. The goal is to use the least amount of medicine needed to control your asthma.
If your medicine doesn’t work – Emergency Care
Call your doctor for advice if your medicines don’t relieve an asthma attack.
Call 9–1–1 for emergency care if:
- You have trouble walking and talking because you’re out of breath.
- You have blue lips or fingernails.
At the hospital, you’ll be closely watched and given oxygen and more medicines, as well as medicines at higher doses than you take at home. Such treatment can save your life.
Asthma and other Chronic Conditions
Be sure to tell your doctor about all of the medicines you take, including over-the-counter medicines.
Are You Having Surgery?
Asthma may add to the risk of having problems during and after surgery. For instance, having a tube put into your throat may cause an asthma attack.
Tell your surgeon about your asthma when you first talk with him or her. The surgeon can take steps to lower your risk, such as giving you asthma medicines before or during surgery.
Lighthouse Guild provides a full spectrum of vision and healthcare services helping people who are blind or visually impaired. We offer healthcare services important to people with asthma. If you are a GuildNet member, talk with your Care Manager about the services available to you.