Living with asthma can mean different things for different people. For some, the condition may represent an infrequent occurrence. For others, the coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath becomes a barrier to quality of life. At its worst, a severe asthma attack can be life-threatening.
Is It Really Asthma?
If you’re experiencing asthma-like symptoms but have not previously struggled with the condition, you may have developed adult-onset asthma. In order to rule out other potential medical issues, Jim Parsons, Certified Asthma Educator at Pullman Regional Hospital, recommends visiting with your primary care physician.
“The key first step is to talk with your doctor if you haven't had any of those symptoms prior. Family history can also indicate there's a possibility you could have asthma,” he notes. “The doctor will likely order a spirometry or another pulmonary function test to determine whether it is indeed asthma causing the symptoms or some other disease, like COPD, that can mimic the symptoms of asthma.”
Identifying Asthma Triggers & Creating an Action Plan
Asthma is characterized by narrowing or swelling of the airways and excessive mucus production. The muscles around the airways can also constrict, impeding air from flowing out of the lungs. Shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness are the symptoms that result.
Once asthma’s severity has been determined, the appropriate treatment option can be prescribed. In some cases, a long-acting corticosteroid is used to bring down the swelling. Long-acting bronchodilators and short-acting bronchodilators, also known as “rescue inhalers,” are additional options.
“Physicians will also look at setting up an action plan so you're aware of your triggers that cause asthma, so at that time you can be proactive in treating your asthma, avoiding triggers, or taking your medication before you get into those situations,” states Parsons.
Such triggers include pollen, dust, mold, pet dander, respiratory infections, cold air, smoke, stress, and exercise. “Each person can have all of those, or just some of them. They sometimes affect people at different times, not always at the same time. Each person is different,” adds Parsons.
To that end, it’s important to know solutions are available—regardless of one’s triggers—to address asthma and its symptoms. Many of the newer medications on the market are becoming more effective in addressing the specific needs of individuals. The key is keeping in regular contact with your physician so your condition can be monitored.
“What I try to tell patients is, don't let asthma control you. You control asthma. Have an action plan, know your medications, and keep taking those medications unless your doctor says otherwise,” advises Parsons.
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