Learning Center

Controlling Asthma

asthma is a serious disease that affects the way you breathe, and should be diagnosed by a physician.

Coping with asthma can be difficult and frightening, especially if emergency care is needed. Asthma sufferers may have concerns about medications, the symptoms they treat and their proper use. Asthmatics and their families need to be informed about when to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment, how to best treat asthma at home, how to prevent asthma episodes, and how to monitor physical activities. In addition, parents of asthmatic children need to be able to communicate effectively with their child's doctor, teachers, principal, and other school personnel.

asthma can be controlled

Managing your asthma can help you do the following:

  • Reduce asthma symptoms such as coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath at night the early morning or after exertion
  • Reduce the number of asthma episodes or attacks
  • Prevent emergency visits to doctors and hospitals
  • Reduce the need for quick-relief therapy
  • Participate in physical activity and exercise without problems
  • Reduce side effects from medications

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Asthma Triggers

learn what triggers asthma

Asthmatics have overly sensitive air passages. Common things that cause little or no trouble for most of us can leave people with asthma struggling for breath. Substances or conditions that bring on asthma attacks in certain people are called asthma triggers. Knowing what they are can help you keep asthma attacks from starting. There are two types of common asthma triggers:

A. Allergic triggers: Allergens (things that cause allergic reactions) most often trigger asthma symptoms by entering the lungs as you breathe. An asthmatic person may be allergic to one or more common allergens found in the environment.

The following particles are allergens that can be in the air:

  • Indoor or outdoor molds, pollen
  • Animal dander (flakes from the skin, hair, or feathers of any warm-blooded pet, including dogs, cats, birds, rodents, and horses)
  • Dog hair and saliva
  • Cat hair, saliva, and urine
  • Dust mite particles (from microscopic insects present in house dust)
  • Cockroach particles

environmental elements
Plants, pollen, household dust, mold

animals
Dander, hair, saliva, and urine

dust mite particles
From microscopic insects present in house dust

roaches
Roach particles are a very potent allergen

food additives
Sulfites used as a preservative in some foods and beverages, such as olives and wine

certain medications
For example, penicillin or aspirin

Some allergies are easy to identify, like cat dander and pollen from flowers; others are harder to identify, such as house dust. Your physician can identify possible allergic triggers by asking detailed questions or through skin testing.

B. Non-allergic triggers: These have nothing to do with allergies, but cause the same airway changes as allergic triggers (i.e., airway swelling, mucus increase, and airway narrowing).

Materials (irritants) in the air:

  • Tobacco smoke
  • Wood smoke, pine odors
  • Room deodorizers, fresh paint, household cleaning products, cooking odors, perfumes and cosmetics
  • Chemical fumes, outdoor air pollution (smog, exhaust from cars and buses, smoke from factories and power plants), natural gas, propane or kerosene
  • Heating units (using gas, wood, coal or kerosene)
  • Respiratory infections—common colds, the flu, or sinus infections
  • Exercise
  • Cold air or sudden changes in weather/air temperature-cooling, storm fronts, high humidity

environmental triggers

Discuss with your doctor how to identify the asthma triggers that affect you, and determine which actions are going to be most helpful in reducing your asthma symptoms.

C. Actions that can help remove or avoid some asthma triggers:

  • Cigarette smoking: Avoid cigarette smoke, especially in the home.
  • Strong odors and sprays: Avoid perfumes and perfumed cosmetics, room deodorizers, and household cleaning products whenever possible. Do not stay in a house that is being painted (allow enough time for the paint to dry).
  • Colds and infections: Get rest, eat a balanced diet, and exercise regularly. Avoid people with colds or the flu. Discuss flu vaccines with your doctor. Don't take over-the-counter cold medicines before checking with your doctor.
  • Pets: The elimination of animal dander by removing dogs and cats from the home is desirable. If this is not possible, keep the bedroom free of pets.
  • Molds: Reduce exposure to molds or mildew with good ventilation and by reducing humidity. Use humidifiers only when a "croupy" cough (barking, dry cough caused by infections of the upper airways) is present.
  • Dust: If there is sensitivity to dust mites, mattresses and pillows should be encased in plastic covers (or wash the pillow once a week, every week). Wash bed covers, clothes, and stuffed toys once a week in hot water. Avoid sleeping or lying on upholstered furniture. Avoid using a vacuum cleaner or leave the room while it is being vacuumed. Remove carpets from the bedroom.
  • Insects: Control of cockroach infestations is important when there is sensitivity to these pests.
  • Weather: Dress warmly in cold weather and on windy days, pulling a turtleneck over your nose. Wear a scarf over the mouth and nose in cold weather.
  • Outdoor pollens and molds: Stay indoors at midday and during the afternoon when the pollen count is high. If possible, use air conditioning. Keep windows closed during pollen and mold seasons. Avoid mold sources (wet leaves, garden debris).
  • Exercise: Discuss with your doctor a medication plan that allows physical activity without symptoms. Take prescribed medications before exercising. Warm up before doing exercise and cool down afterwards.

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Warning Signs

Predicting an asthma episode is not the same for everyone, and early-warning signs may change from episode to episode. Make sure you follow an Asthma Action Plan prepared by your doctor as soon as warning signs develop. These may include:

  • A drop in your peak-flow reading (earliest warning sign!)
  • A chronic cough, especially at night
  • Difficult or rapid breathing
  • Chest tightness or discomfort
  • Running out of breath more easily than usual
  • Fatigue
  • Wheezing
  • Feeling that the head is stuffed up
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Restlessness
  • A runny nose
  • A change in the color of the face
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Other symptoms identified by you and your physician

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