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Asthma is a long-term disease of the airways of the lung. The airways become sensitive to triggers (allergens and irritants). With exposure to triggers, the following changes occur:
All of these factors cause the airways to narrow. This makes it hard for air to go in and out of the lungs.
The exact cause of asthma is unknown. It is believed to be partially inherited. The environment, infections, and chemicals released by the body are also involved.
Exercise causes symptoms in many people with asthma. Symptoms can occur during, or shortly after, exercise. In some people, stress or strong emotions can cause asthma symptoms.
All of the following may be asthma triggers:
It is most common in the following people:
Other factors include the following:
The symptoms of asthma include:
To diagnose asthma and rule out other lung disorders, health care providers rely on your medical history, physical exam, and other tests. An important test for the diagnosis and monitoring of asthma is spirometry.
A spirometer is a device that is used to determine how well the lungs are working. It measures the amount and speed of air exhaled.
Other tests may also be done to check for conditions such as allergies.
Your health care provider will figure out the best treatment based on:
There is no cure for asthma. It can usually be controlled by avoiding triggers and taking medicines as prescribed by your health care provider.
Monitoring symptoms, and knowing what to do if symptoms get worse, is also a vital part of asthma care. Experts recommend making an Asthma Action Plan with your doctor.
The two types of asthma medicines are long-term control and short-term or quick-relief medicines. Long-term control medicines are usually taken every day to control asthma symptom. Quick-relief medicines calm asthma symptoms fast, but only last for a short time. People with asthma may take either long-term or quick-relief medicines, or both.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends providers regularly assess and adjust medicines as needed.
When you first start taking long-term control medicines, it may take a few weeks for the medicines to work. It is very important to take these medicines every day. Long-term asthma control medicines include:
Quick-relief medicines quickly relax the muscles around the airways. The relief only last about 2 to 3 hours. Only control medicines give long-term control and help prevent the recurrence of symptoms.
Quick-relief medicines may include:
Inhaled medicines go directly to the lungs. There are fewer side effects than medicines taken by mouth. Inhaled may be anti-inflammatory or bronchodilating or both. The devices are:
Avoiding triggers is key in the management of asthma. Triggers may be allergens, irritants, other medical conditions, exercise, medicines, and strong emotions. The following can help you limit your exposure:
Even though exercise is a common asthma trigger, you should not limit your participation in sports or exercise, unless directed by a health care provider. Exercise is good for your health and lungs. Activities such as swimming, golf, and karate are good choices for persons with asthma. Always warm-up before exercise and cool down at the end of exercise. Ask your doctor about using your quick-reliever medicine before starting exercise.
Avoid smoke or use wood stoves or kerosene heaters. Also avoid strong perfumes, cleaning products, fresh paint, and other things with strong odors.
Some medicines can worsen asthma symptoms. These medicines include aspirin, NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), and beta-blockers used to treat heart disease and high blood pressure. Talk with your health care provider about your asthma history and use of these medicines.
Respiratory infections, such as colds and the flu, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD or heartburn), overweight, sleep apnea, depression, and other problems can make it more difficult to control asthma. Work with your doctor to treat any of these problems.
Emotions that go with laughing and crying can trigger asthma symptoms. There are ways to learn how to better manage your emotions.
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