We don’t think about breathing. We just do. It’s one of our body’s involuntary functions which include our heartbeat, blood flow, and digestion.
We take it for granted on some level because it’s automatic. When you can’t breathe, for any reason, nothing matters more than your next breath.
That’s how it feels for people with asthma. It is a chronic disease and one of the most common long-term diseases for children. Adults have it too.
It can cause breathlessness, chest tightness, wheezing, and coughing early in the morning or at night. Asthma stays with you, but asthma attacks occur when something — like an allergen — affects your lungs. That’s when you feel it the most.
Asthma causes swelling in a person’s airways which makes it hard for them to breathe. While there is no cure, it can be managed with medication and preventive measures, like not exerting yourself, or limiting your exposure to environmental triggers.
Nearly 25 million, or 1 in 13, Americans have asthma. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America:
- 8% of adults and 7% of children have asthma
- Around 20 million Americans aged 18 and older have asthma
- It’s more common in adult women than adult men
- Around 5.1 million children under 18 have asthma
- It’s the leading chronic disease in children
- It’s more common in boys than girls
- African Americans are nearly three times more likely to die of asthma than white Americans
- 10 Americans die from asthma each day.
It’s not clear how it’s caused. Contributing factors, however, include genetics, environment, and occupation. If an immediate family member — like a parent or sibling — has asthma, it’s likely you have it.
Environmental elements like dampness, mold, dust mites, pollution, and tobacco smoke have all been linked to developing asthma. Working near dust, chemicals, or insulation can lead to the development of occupational asthma.
Asthma can be hard to diagnose, especially in children under five. There are multiple tests doctors can conduct to determine if a patient has asthma, a respiratory infection, or some other chronic condition.
The most common measure is lung function. Doctors will test how much air can be exhaled after a deep breath. They may also use a device to measure how hard a person can breathe out. These tests are usually conducted before and after taking a medication to open the lungs. If there’s a difference, you probably have asthma.
Other tests include:
- Allergy testing
- Asthma triggers to cause airways to tighten
- Exercising to trigger a response
- Looking for certain white blood cells — eosinophils — in saliva and mucus
- Measuring nitric oxide in someone’s breath
Asthma only affects people when they have an attack. Attacks are caused when someone is exposed to an asthma trigger.
People with asthma have different triggers. The most common are:
- Air pollution
- Dust mites
- Respiratory infections
- Tobacco smoke
- Wood smoke
People learn to identify their triggers, and avoid them, by working with health care professionals.
Asthma stays with you for life. You never outgrow it. You may have fewer symptoms the older you get, but it’s always there.
Two-thirds of children under six who may have wheezed when they had colds, may not as they get older, likely never had asthma.
Taking medicine exactly as directed and avoiding asthma triggers are the best ways to avoid an asthma attack. The medicine can vary from a pill to inhaled medications. They are prescribed to provide either long-term relief or emergency relief — like from an asthma attack with the use of an inhaler.
There can be some side effects from asthma medicine, but most are mild and soon go away.
Work with your doctor to develop an asthma plan and make sure you share it with the right people. Also, make sure to take your long-term control medicine whether you are having symptoms or not.
We’re Here to Help
Asthma is a chronic condition but not one you have to face alone. AltaMed is here to offer support with treatment and developing an asthma action plan to prevent attacks. Contact
AltaMed at (888) 499-9303 for more information or to make an appointment.