What is Asthma? - WMBB News 13 - The Panhandle's News Leader

What is Asthma?

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Asthma (Az-muh) is a chronic disease that affects your airways. The airways are the tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs. If you have asthma, the inside walls of your airways are inflamed (swollen). The inflammation (IN-fla-MAY-shun) makes the airways very sensitive, and they tend to react strongly to things that you are allergic to or find irritating. When the airways react, they get narrower, and less air flows through to your lung tissue. This causes symptoms like wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), coughing, chest tightness, and trouble breathing, especially at night and in the early morning.

Asthma cannot be cured, but most people with asthma can control it so that they have few and infrequent symptoms and can live active lives.

When your asthma symptoms become worse than usual, it is called an asthma episode or attack. During an asthma attack, muscles around the airways tighten up, making the airways narrower so less air flows through. Inflammation increases, and the airways become more swollen and even narrower. Cells in the airways may also make more mucus than usual. This extra mucus also narrows the airways. These changes make it harder to breathe.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Asthma?

Common asthma symptoms include:

  • Coughing. Coughing from asthma is often worse at night or early in the morning, making it hard to sleep.
  • Wheezing. Wheezing is a whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe.
  • Chest tightness. This can feel like something is squeezing or sitting on your chest.
  • Shortness of breath. Some people say they can't catch their breath, or they feel breathless or out of breath. You may feel like you can't get enough air in or out of your lungs.
  • Faster breathing or noisy breathing.

How is Asthma diagnosed?

Some things your doctor will ask about include:

  • Periods of coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, or chest tightness that come on suddenly, occur often, or seem to happen during certain times of the year or season
  • Colds that seem to "go to the chest" or take more than 10 days to get over
  • Medicines you may have used to help your breathing
  • Your family history of asthma and allergies
  • Things that seem to cause your symptoms or make them worse

Your doctor will listen to your breathing and look for signs of asthma or allergies.

Your doctor will probably use a device called a spirometer (speh-ROM-et-er) to check how your lungs are working. This test is called spirometry (speh-ROM-eh-tree). The test measures how much air you can blow out of your lungs after taking a deep breath, and how fast you can do it . The results will be lower than normal if your airways are inflamed and narrowed, or if the muscles around your airways have tightened up.

As part of the test, your doctor may give you a medicine that helps open narrowed airways to see if the medicine changes or improves your test results.

Spirometry is also used to check your asthma over time to see how you are doing.

Spirometry usually cannot be used in children younger than 5 years. If your child is younger than 5 years, the doctor may decide to try medicine for a while to see if the child's symptoms get better. If your spirometry results are normal but you have asthma symptoms, your doctor will probably want you to have other tests to see what else could be causing your symptoms.

These include:

  • Allergy testing to find out if and what allergens affect you.
  • A test in which you use a peak flow meter every day for 1-2 weeks to check your breathing. A peak flow meter is a hand-held device that helps you monitor how well you are breathing.
  • A test to see how your airways react to exercise.
  • Tests to see if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease.
  • A test to see if you have sinus disease.

Other tests, such as a chest x ray or an electrocardiogram, may be needed to find out if a foreign object or other lung diseases or heart disease could be causing your symptoms. A correct diagnosis is important because asthma is treated differently from other diseases with similar symptoms.

Depending on the results of your physical exam, medical history, and lung function tests, your doctor can determine how severe your asthma is. This is important because the severity of your asthma will determine how your asthma should be treated. One way for doctors to classify asthma severity is by considering how often you have symptoms when you are not taking any medicine or when your asthma is not well controlled.

Asthma Control

If you have asthma, you may think you are doing just fine. After all, you do not have asthma attacks often. And when you have asthma symptoms, you use your fast-acting inhaler (your puffer or your rescue inhaler or quick-relief inhaler). But there is more to asthma control.

You may think your asthma is under control. But is it really? Ask yourself these quick questions to help find out.

  1. Do you have to use fast-acting inhaler (or puffer) more than 2 times a week?
  2. Have you had to stop exercising or limit physical activity because of your asthma symptoms?
  3. Has having asthma caused you to avoid going places or doing things that you would like to do (such as hiking or going for walks in the park)?
  4. Do you have asthma symptoms (such as wheezing, breathlessness, tightness in your chest, and coughing) more than 2 days a week?
  5. Does coughing wake you up more than 2 nights a month?
  6. Have you recently missed work because of your asthma symptoms?
  7. Have you recently had to visit the emergency room or an urgent-care center because of your asthma symptoms?

A yes answer to 1 or more of these questions is a sign that your asthma may not really be under control. You can do more to help control your asthma. Talk with your doctor. Because you can help prevent asthma symptoms before they start.

  • Questions you may want to ask your doctor:
  • Am I using my fast-acting inhaler (or puffer) too often?
  • Is my asthma as well controlled as it could be?
  • Do I need a daily controller medicine that can help prevent my asthma symptoms before they start?
  • Is SINGULAIR right for me?

Source from www.singulair.com