Asthma can be dangerous if left untreated, but treatment plans are usually successful and managing the condition is key.
Asthma is one of the most common diseases in the United States today, and its narrowing of the breathing airways is marked by wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and difficulty breathing.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 12 people have this chronic lung disease, and the numbers are growing. About half of all patients tend to have at least one asthma attack over the course of a year, and many of those can be prevented. Although asthma can be dangerous if left unchecked, treatment through a health care provider is usually successful, and patient involvement in the management of asthma is key.
The most common type of asthma is allergy-induced asthma, but there are several additional types:
In a small but significant group of people with asthma, aspirin can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory symptoms, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Less than 5 percent of asthma sufferers have aspirin-sensitive asthma.
The severity of symptoms can vary depending on factors such as triggers, genetics, and the type of asthma, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. The most common symptoms include:
Depending on a person’s individual condition, these symptoms could last anywhere from a few minutes to several days. Asthma is a common cause of unexplained coughing, but so is gastroesophageal reflux and a variety of other conditions, so it’s important to work with a health care provider to establish a diagnosis.
Both environmental and genetic factors have been shown to play a role in the onset of asthma. In addition, there are specific triggers that may cause asthma attacks to occur, such as physical activity, allergens, air pollutants, cold air, high stress levels or respiratory infections. Even a woman’s menstrual cycle can be a trigger for this condition.
Since many triggers are environmental, your exposure to those elements could be a risk factor for asthma. Additionally, having an immediate blood relative with asthma could also increase your risk for developing this breathing condition. Other common risk factors include being a smoker or being around second-hand smoke before and/or after birth, being overweight, having allergies, suffering frequent respiratory infections in childhood and having a low birth weight.
The development of asthma is often difficult to prevent since it can be partially due to genetics. However, you can try to sidestep the most common, debilitating symptoms by avoiding environmental factors known to trigger the condition.
Here are a few tips for preventing asthma flare-ups:
Two basic categories of asthma medication are:
There are several components in a comprehensive approach to asthma, and medication is just one of them. Other components include patient education, controlling triggers, monitoring symptoms, and categorizing severity to arrive at a balance between risks and benefits.
The approach to managing asthma is highly individual, depending on factors such as age, severity of symptoms, and the presence or absence of other conditions in addition to the asthma. Treatment for a new episode (or an acute exacerbation of asthma) is distinct from long-term treatment.
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of asthma, see a doctor for a diagnosis and to explore potential treatment options. It’s important to treat asthma early on to prevent lung damage, especially in children.
Finally, any severe asthma attack that isn’t alleviated by the use of quick-relief medications requires immediate medical attention. In very serious cases, asthma attacks like these could result in permanent damage or even death.