Asthma is a disease of the respiratory system. During an asthma attack, the muscles around the airways tighten, or "spasm," and the lining inside the airways swells or thickens, and becomes clogged with thick mucous. It becomes very hard to breathe.
Attacks are often triggered by allergies, infections from colds or bronchitis, exercise, changes in the weather (from mild to cold) and smoke.
There are many risk factors that can increase your chances of developing asthma, including:
- Having a blood relative with asthma
- Being overweight
- Being exposed to secondhand smoke
- Having a mother who smoked during pregnancy
- Being exposed to pollution, manufacturing chemicals, and/or allergens and germs
- Low birth weight
Asthma self-management education programs attempt to develop healthy attitudes toward asthma and skills for controlling it. PAMF offers educational resources about asthma that complement the medical treatment prescribed by your doctor. Visit the Asthma Resources website to learn how to prevent and manage your asthma.
Asthma cannot be cured, but its symptoms can be controlled. Since asthma often changes over time, it's important that you work with your doctor to design a step-by-step plan for living with your asthma and preventing the attacks.
- Follow your asthma action plan. Write a plan with your doctor detailing the medications you will take and how to manage an asthma attack. Make sure to follow your plan because asthma is a condition that you will live with forever and it needs regular monitoring and treatment. By taking control of your condition you will eliminate any surprises that may come.
- Get immunized for influenza and pneumonia. Flus and pneumonia can trigger your asthma, so make you sure you’re up to date with your shots.
- Identify your triggers. Discover what causes or worsens your asthma, and try to avoid those triggers.
- Monitor your breathing. Recognize the warning signs of an imminent attack, like coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath. Most people only notice these symptoms when it’s too late. However, you can always measure your peak airflow with a home peak flow meter.
- Notice how often you use your inhaler. If you are relying on your inhaler too often then your asthma may be resurfacing. Talk to your doctor to discuss what you can do to improve your condition.
- Keep taking your medication even if your asthma improves until you talk to your doctor. You should bring your medications with you to check that you have been using the medication correctly and taking the right dosage.
- Treat attacks early. Early treatment will require less medication and will reduce the likelihood of a serious attack. When you notice that your peak flow measurements decrease, take your medication immediately and stop anything that may have caused the attack. If your symptoms worsen, get medical help.
Reviewed by Nancy L. Brown, Ph.D.
Below are links PAMF accessed when researching this topic. PAMF does not sponsor or endorse any of these sites, nor does PAMF guarantee the accuracy of the information contained on them.
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
Children's Medical Center, University of Virginia.