Asthma is a Disease That is Managed
By Krista Kozacki, MD
Asthma can affect all ages, but it usually starts in childhood. It is a condition that affects the airways of the lungs through inflammation and narrowing.
This inflammation causes the nerve endings in the airways to become more sensitive and easily irritated, which causes an asthma attack. The symptoms are wheezing and difficulty breathing, but intermittent coughing or chest tightness also might be symptoms.
The symptoms come from the airways swelling, which causes a narrowing that reduces the amount of air that can flow in and out of the lungs.
For most people, asthma is mild and episodes are infrequent, but for some, episodes can be serious or life-threatening if not treated.
An asthma attack might pass very quickly, or it could last days. It also might come on slowly or occur very suddenly.
It is important to understand that asthma is a disease that is not cured, but it is managed. It does not mean that you need to stop or slow down, but you need to learn to control your asthma and be actively healthy.
Early warning signs of asthma are a frequent cough, especially at night; easily losing your breath or feeling short of breath; feeling particularly weak or tired when exercising; wheezing or coughing after exercising; getting easily upset, grouchy or moody; having recurrent allergy or cold symptoms; problems sleeping; chest pains; difficulty talking; feeling anxious; and looking pale or blue lips.
It is important to recognize and treat symptoms early. Other conditions can mimic asthma symptoms, so it is important to have your doctor in the discussion about these symptoms you may have.
Asthma might have triggers that can cause a flare. It is important to know what these are in order to avoid them when possible. Some common triggers are indoor mold, dust mites, pets, pollen, outdoor mold, cockroaches, chemicals, smoke, animal dander, anxiety and exercise.
Here are some important facts to dispel the myths about asthma:
- Asthma is not a psychological condition. It is a problem in the lungs and the immune system’s overreaction to triggers.
- Medications needed to treat asthma are not addictive. They are meant to be used daily in order to maintain an open airway. They do not make anyone dependent on the medication.
- The inhaled steroids are different than steroids used by athletes to get bigger muscles. These steroids decrease inflammation in the lungs.
- Medications cannot be stopped when you feel good with your asthma. Maintenance medication for asthma is meant to be taken even when you feel good to ensure that asthma is controlled. Rescue inhalers do not need to be used at this time.
- Adults and children with asthma should play and exercise regularly. However, asthma needs to be controlled with maintenance medications and the use of certain inhalers before exercise. If uncontrolled, the individual might not be able to keep up with others.
A goal of asthma treatment is to help you maintain a healthy, normal, active lifestyle that includes exercise. Fitness applies to your lungs also; speak to your doctor about an asthma action plan that is designed for before and during exercise.
The best activities are those that involve short, intermittent periods of exertion. Swimming, indoor and outdoor biking, aerobics, walking and running on a treadmill are well-tolerated and beneficial activities.
Before starting, speak to your physician and come up with a plan that involves: pre-exercise medication, avoiding your known triggers, using warm-up and cool-down exercises and exercising at a level that is appropriate for you.