Live a Healthier, Happier Life with Asthma
Asthma is a long-term or chronic lung disease that can affect children and adults. During an asthma attack, the airways narrow, leading to trouble breathing. It also causes inflammation in the bronchial tubes, which contributes to shortness of breath. Symptoms of asthma include:
Although researchers continue to work towards a cure for asthma, currently, there is no cure. But treatments are available. Asthma treatment targets different aspects of the disease. For example, some treatments help the narrowing of the airways. Other treatment options target airway swelling.
Uncontrolled asthma can eventually lead to permanent changes in the airway called remodeling. Airway remodeling can cause structural alterations due to chronic inflammation. These changes can lead to worsening breathing problems.
Fortunately, various treatment options can help prevent asthma attacks and reduce symptoms.
Different asthma treatments help decrease various symptoms. Sometimes, a combination of treatments may help. Consider the following options:
Medications are one of the main treatment options for asthma. Medications may include:
Bronchodilators are medications that relax the muscles around the airways. Various types of bronchodilators are available that target or attach to different receptors in the lungs.
Relaxing the muscles helps dilate the breathing tubes; easing wheezing and shortness of breath. Bronchodilators are most commonly available in a nebulizer or inhaler form.
Bronchodilators can include medications such as albuterol, Xopenex, and Atrovent. Common side effects include a fast heart rate, anxiety, and shakiness.
Steroids decrease swelling or inflammation in the airways. Swelling can also make it harder to get air into the lungs. So, by reducing inflammation, it also decreases asthma symptoms. Steroids are administered through inhaled medications, orally or intravenously, as needed.
Common steroids include Flovent, prednisone, and Qvar. Possible steroid side effects include irritability, weight gain, and trouble sleeping.
Medications that combine a bronchodilator and steroids are also used to treat asthma. These medications often have a long-acting bronchodilator that prevents airway narrowing for several hours. Combination medications are often part of an asthma management plan. They are not usually used to treat sudden symptoms.
Combination medications include Advair, Breo, and Symbicort. Side effects can include oral yeast infection, headache, and anxiety.
An asthma attack makes it difficult to get enough air into the lungs, leading to low blood oxygen levels. When levels become too low, a person is hypoxic. Symptoms of hypoxia include:
- Shortness of breath.
- Rapid breathing.
Oxygen therapy can help treat low oxygen levels and ease symptoms of hypoxia. Oxygen therapy is delivered using different devices such as a nasal cannula, oxygen mask, or high-flow oxygen system.
In cases where breathing is significantly impaired, someone may need to help beyond oxygen therapy. Non-invasive ventilation involves bilevel positive airway pressure, called BiPAP for short.
BiPAP delivers pressurized air into the lungs through a mask attached to the BiPAP machine. It can help improve oxygen levels and make it easier for someone to breathe. Usually, BiPAP is only used for a short time until other treatments start to work.
Lifestyle changes are also often part of an asthma treatment plan. Making certain changes can reduce the number of asthma attacks a person has and may decrease the severity of symptoms. Lifestyle changes may include:
Reducing triggers:Once a person figures out what is causing their asthma symptoms, they can find ways to reduce triggers; this is not always easy. But there are ways to decrease environmental exposure to particular allergens that may help. Work with your doctor to develop a plan to reduce triggers.
Not smoking: Smoking does not cause asthma. But it can damage the lungs and make asthma symptoms worse.
Getting to a healthy weight: Getting to a healthy weight may help reduce the severity of asthma symptoms. According to the American Lung Association, overweight people often use more asthma medication and are more likely to have uncontrollable asthma than people within a healthy weight range.
Emergency asthma treatment
It is best to get treatment as soon as possible if you develop an asthma attack. At the first signs of wheezing, use your rescue inhaler as prescribed. Make sure you know how many treatments you can take if symptoms do not improve.
If you do not feel an improvement in your symptoms, or symptoms get worse, you may want to get to an urgent care center or emergency department.
An asthma attack can also become a life-threatening situation. If you or someone you know experiences any of the following symptoms, call for emergency medical help:
- Blue skin or lips.
- Inability to talk in sentences from breathlessness.
- Chest pain.
If you are unsure whether to seek immediate medical help for your asthma treatments, call for help.