Anybody who has asthma knows how scary it can be when you can't catch your breath. Some symptoms of asthma are obvious, such as having an asthma "attack" but other symptoms may be less ominous. How do you know if you have asthma? Do you need to be treated?
What is asthma?
Asthma is an inflammation of the airways leading to the decrease or obstruction of airflow. Asthma is differentiated from other diseases of the airways by the fact that it is reversible. This means that when proper medications are used, the inflammation decreases and the symptoms resolve completely. It can be present at any age although it is generally diagnosed in childhood when the symptoms typically start.
Asthma is often associated with shortness of breath (especially with activity), coughing and wheezing. It is sometimes associated with chest pressure as well as headaches. The cough is often more prevalent at nighttime. Symptoms are typically due to a "trigger" which may be an allergen or excessive physical activity. In true asthma, when proper medications are used, symptoms resolve.
How do you test for asthma?
There is no blood test for asthma. Typically, a breathing test called spirometry is completed. This is done both before and after treatment with an inhaled short acting Beta2 Agonist such as albuterol. If the patient is shows improvement in testing after treatment with a bronchodilator (albuterol), the diagnosis is asthma. In people with symptoms provoked by allergens, allergy testing is often recommended as well so that allergy treatment may be initiated to decrease the incidence of asthma flare-ups.
How is it treated?
Treatment of asthma is dependent upon the severity of the illness for each patient. Those with very specific triggers are often told to avoid triggers and use a rescue inhaler (albuterol) when the triggers are present. Patients with exercise-induced asthma often pre-treat with an inhaler before activity and can then exercise with few symptoms. For patients with allergy triggers, allergy shots or antihistamines are used along with a rescue inhaler for best results.
For those individuals who have more severe symptoms or daily exacerbations, other medications are recommended. In some cases, long-acting beta agonists are used. In others, inhaled corticosteroids are recommended. For some patients, oral medication called montelukast is also beneficial. Only your primary care provider can determine what treatment regimen is right for you.
If you have concerns that you may have asthma or know somebody who may have asthma, visit with your primary care provider today. With proper treatment there are no limits to what you can do.