Breathe in…. Breathe out…. Repeat.
Simple enough, right? Unfortunately, this basic human function causes trouble for some 26 million Americans who have asthma.1 When their chronic airway disease is well-managed, breathing is quiet and easy, just as it is for the rest of us. But when airways are inflamed, air has difficulty moving in and out, leading to shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, or tightness of the chest.
If you’re suffering from this type of breathing discomfort, you’re not alone: Asthma is one of the most common long-term diseases of children, and routinely affects adults, too. This inflammation is brought on by a variety of factors, and symptoms can be mild to intense.
“The seriousness can range from mild wheezing once in a while—so the patient would need a rescue inhaler—to severe breathing problems that would send the patient to a hospital to get drugs through a vein and oxygen support,” explains Kyon Hood, MD, president of Teladoc physicians.
The good news is that you can control this disease by creating and following a plan with your doctor, managing triggers that cause symptoms, and knowing the warning signs of an attack. Read on for five surprising facts that will help you understand and manage your asthma better.
1. Your asthma could be linked to allergies.
In allergic asthma, symptoms are triggered by allergens that are breathed in. Allergic asthma is the most common type, affecting about 60 percent of all asthmatics.2 If exposed to one of your specific allergens, the immune system responds as if it’s under threat, which leads to airway problems.
Unbeknownst to many of us, these potential allergens like pollens, dust mites, pet dander, and mold spores lurk in our air. Other more obvious irritants like smoke, strong fragrances, or charcoal grills can also cause an allergic, asthmatic reaction.
Some allergens may be immediately apparent to the sufferer, who can link symptoms with certain situations. Other times, patients require an allergy test to identify potential triggers and manage the allergic condition. Consider the places and circumstances tied to your asthma symptoms, and discuss what you notice with a doctor.
2. Seasons influence your asthma.
As we mark months off our calendars, allergen levels rise and fall—causing asthma flare-ups (and remissions). So symptoms may come and go based on what’s in bloom. In spring, it’s commonly birch and oak tree pollens and flowers; fall is defined by ragweed and molds from wet, decaying leaves. But allergies aren’t the only reason that certain seasons are worse for people with asthma, Dr. Hood points out.
“One of the most common triggers of asthma is upper respiratory viral infections, and these illnesses are much more common in the winter months,” Dr. Hood explains. Illnesses like the flu or common cold will attack your airways, which can cause worsening asthma symptoms if exposed. These viruses frequently travel around schools and other public spaces in the heart of winter and also in the fall. Once frigid temps roll in, asthma sufferers may be bothered by cold air, especially during exercise.
For some, summer brings a break from asthma symptoms, while others struggle with high levels of humidity and even pollution in June, July, and August. The unpleasant fact is that no matter the temperature or season, the airways can always be aggravated by what’s in our environment.
3. You can make changes to prevent asthma symptoms.
Once you’ve identified certain triggers, there are steps you can take to keep asthma symptoms at bay. If you’re bothered by chemical smells, consider banning perfumes, scented candles, and sprays—and even harsh cleansers—from your home and work. If allergic to dust or molds, chose window coverings like curtains and drapes that can be easily taken down and washed. Hardwood floors are easier to clean than wall-to-wall carpets. If you’re stirring up irritants or allergens, take a break from housework. If a trigger is unavoidable, limit the amount of time you’re around it. “The longer someone is exposed, the more severe the reaction may be,” Dr. Hood says.
Since asthma can worsen with infection, pay attention to good hand hygiene practices and share hand-washing tips with your kids. For some people with asthma, they can manage symptoms with occasional use of a rescue inhaler: Always keep the inhaler on hand. For others, a doctor may prescribe an inhaled steroid or other medication.
Make sure you follow the treatment plan exactly so you can manage breathing difficulties. For children, this means using inhalers with spacer devices, Dr. Hood says, to make sure they get all of the inhaled medicine into their lungs.
4. Exercise can help your asthma.
Even if you have asthma, an active lifestyle is important for maintaining good health. Regular physical activity can actually improve lung function and overall wellness. People in exercise programs experienced fewer asthma-related symptoms than those who were inactive.3 By working your lungs, you’re making them stronger and more resilient—so long as you are following a treatment plan to keep your asthma under control.
“If exercise causes attacks, doctors often recommend using a rescue inhaler—such as albuterol, ProAir, or Ventolin—just before going to the gym or playing sports,” Dr. Hood says.
Regular exercise also helps prevent obesity, which can make asthma harder to control and make certain asthma medications less effective.4 As long as the activity isn’t too difficult and you’re taking breaks as needed, exercise is an effective way to maintain healthy lung function and overall wellness.
5. Being prepared is essential to asthma management.
Understanding your asthma triggers is critical to lung health. Whether you’re focused on allergens, exercise, or seasonal changes, knowledge is power. With awareness, you can follow a prevention and treatment plan and lead a healthy life. It’s also important to know if your asthma is not under control, and these early warning signs of an attack:5
- Frequent cough, especially at night
- Trouble sleeping
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling very tired or weak during exercising
- Wheezing or coughing during or after exercise
- Decreases or changes in a peak expiratory flow test
- Signs of a cold, infection, or allergies like sneezing, runny nose, congestion, sore throat, or headache
You want to be prepared if you catch a respiratory infection, or if you notice any of these symptoms. Set up your account now and update your medical history so you can consult with a licensed medical doctor by app, web, or phone for asthma treatment planning. We’ll help you breathe easier wherever you are, whenever you need us.
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