Today's Medicine

Don’t Let Asthma Sideline You. Form a Plan of Attack With Your Care Team

Published: June 15, 2021

Nearly everyone has been touched by asthma or knows someone who has. In fact, asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases today, affecting about 25 million Americans. 

Those living with the chronic condition know how miserable an asthma attack can be. And while there’s no cure for asthma, it can be treated and managed with the help of a primary care provider.


Causes of Asthma

We don’t know exactly why some people develop asthma and others don’t, although you’re more likely to have asthma if someone in your family does or you have eczema. In addition to genetic factors, environmental and occupational factors may play a role in developing asthma. They include:

  • Air pollution
  • Allergens like dust mites or cockroaches
  • Dampness
  • Irritants like wood dust or chemicals
  • Mold
  • Pets
  • Smoke from burning wood or grass
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Viral lung infections like the flu

Most people with asthma develop it early in childhood. It’s rare that someone over age 50 develops the condition, and adults diagnosed with asthma likely had symptoms as a child. 

The good news: It’s possible for asthma symptoms to improve or even end as a child grows into adulthood.


Symptoms of Asthma

An asthma attack occurs when a person’s airways swell and narrow, potentially causing:

  • Difficult breathing
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Increased mucus production

Asthma attacks are as unique as the people who experience them. The cause of an attack is called a trigger, but what triggers an attack for one person may not affect another. A list of common asthma attack triggers reads much like a list of causes to the condition itself: 

  • Cleaners and disinfectants
  • Cold, dry air
  • Dust mites
  • Exercise
  • Experiencing strong emotions
  • Fragrances
  • Mold
  • Outdoor air pollution
  • Pests like cockroaches or mice
  • Pets
  • Pollen
  • Some foods and food additives
  • Tobacco smoke

For some people, the symptoms of asthma can diminish sleep quality, lead to missed work or school, or interfere with daily activities and exercise. In severe cases, asthma can lead to frequent doctor visits, hospital stays or even death.  


Treating and Managing Asthma

Asthma can be treated and managed with several approaches, which can vary from person to person. If you have asthma, your treatment plan may include:

Avoiding triggers: It’s important to take the time to understand what unique triggers you have. You may not be able to avoid all of them, but being more cognizant of your triggers can go a long way toward managing your asthma. 

Quick-relief medicines: These medicines help control asthma symptoms once an attack is triggered – albuterol inhalers are a common example. If you find yourself relying on these often, talk with your provider about your overall plan for managing your asthma and preventing attacks.

Long-term control medicines: The goal of these medicines is to prevent and ease the intensity of asthma attacks, but they don’t address the symptoms of an attack once it occurs.

Other medications aim to help people who specifically have allergy-induced asthma or have severe asthma that control medicines don’t manage well. Regardless of which of the many asthma medications your provider gives you, it’s imperative that you take them as prescribed, even if you feel well.

Asthma Action Plan: Everyone with asthma should have an Asthma Action Plan in writing, completed with assistance from their health team. An Asthma Action Plan can help you make faster, more objective decisions about when to use asthma medicine or contact a doctor. Up-to-date plans are especially important to help caregivers or education staff manage a child’s asthma or react in an emergency.


A Team Approach To Managing Asthma

Asthma is a condition that perfectly highlights the importance of establishing a strong relationship with a primary care provider. 

As mentioned before, most people with asthma develop it during childhood. When we’re regularly seeing kids for checkups, school and sports physicals or treatment of illnesses or injuries, we have a better chance at identifying asthma and putting a management plan in place.

That continuity of care remains important into adulthood for several reasons. 

Our long-term goal is prevent exacerbations of asthma and prepare patients for what to do if they occur. But that can be a bit of a moving target. Your symptoms and the severity of your asthma can evolve over time and require an adjusted approach. 

Or we might identify a need to step up your management regimen – if, for example, you find yourself relying on a quick-relief inhaler too often, we know your asthma is uncontrolled and needs better management with other medications. 

Finally, sometimes shortness of breath – a major symptom of asthma – may actually be the result of another condition. If medications to address shortness of breath aren’t working and you’re experiencing other symptoms like fainting, chest pain and palpitations, you may need further evaluation to discern whether you have a cardiac issue or some other condition.


Take Control of Your Asthma

If uncontrolled, asthma can be inconvenient, debilitating or worse. If you think you may have asthma or are struggling to control your symptoms, don’t stay on the sidelines. With the help of your primary care provider, you can make asthma just one part of your life – not something that defines it.

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About the Author

Janae Dudgeon, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician at Methodist Physicians Clinic, loves building relationships with every member of a family.

“You get to know the infants, the parents and the grandparents,” she said. “It’s amazing getting to take care of an entire family, seeing them through the difficult times and celebrating their achievements.”

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