What You Need to Know About Asthma

asthma-awareness-month-500With May being Asthma Awareness Month (and May 6 World Asthma Day), we thought we’d start the month with an overview of what asthma is, what it’s not and what you can do about it.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a disease. According to the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, more than 230 million people around the world, including more than 18 million adults and seven million children in the United States, have it.

The disease affects your lungs and, therefore, your ability to breathe. That can be as scary as it sounds. People die from asthma attacks. That’s why, even though there are “maintenance” medications, there also are medications called “rescue” inhalers.

Asthma typically doesn’t “go away.” Once you get it, you have it all the time and for the rest of your life. The symptoms may come and go, and they may even seem to disappear. But the underlying condition remains. So you can feel good one moment and the next have a flare-up that seriously affects breathing.

What Causes Asthma?

The cause of asthma is not known. What is known is what causes, or triggers, asthma symptoms.

Asthma triggers include allergens, such as dust mites, pollen, mold and pet dander, and irritants from air pollution, tobacco smoke and chemicals. Colds, bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses also can cause flare-ups. So can exposure to cold air, extreme emotional distress, such as from anger or fear, and physical exercise.

What are the Symptoms?

When people think of asthma symptoms, they typically think of shortness of breath and wheezing. But they also include coughing, a tight feeling in the chest and other symptoms that can be mistaken for other illnesses, such as cold or bronchitis.

This frequently means people with asthma go untreated. If you have any doubts, watch the progress of your illness. You may have asthma if colds regularly “go to the chest” or last longer than 10 days. Or if you have sudden onsets of coughing, wheezing, chest tightness or shortness of breath.

The only way to be sure, and be sure you’re getting the proper treatment, is to see your doctor. So

What Can I Do About It?

While asthma can’t be cured, it can be controlled. Your doctor can work with you to develop a treatment plan to control your symptoms and keep your condition from getting worse. If you think you have asthma, but haven’t sought treatment, the sooner you talk to your doctor, the sooner you’ll begin feeling better.

You can help your doctor determine the proper treatment with some simple preparation before your visit. First, write down any symptoms you have had, when they occurred and what you were doing when you had them.

Next, be sure you have a list of medications, prescription and over-the-counter, including vitamins and other supplements. Some medications and supplements can affect asthma or interact badly with asthma medications.

Also, be sure to write down any questions you want to ask. It’s hard to remember everything when you’re in the exam room. It’s also hard to remember everything the doctor says, so be sure to take notes and keep asking questions if there’s anything you don’t understand.

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