Breathe Easy: Effective Asthma Management

Millions of Americans have asthma. If you are one of them, the following information may help you live better with this common lung condition. 

Take it seriously

Every day 1,200 people are admitted to the hospital and nine die from asthma in the United States. In asthma, the airways that carry air to and from the lungs become inflamed (swollen). The inflammation makes the airways overly sensitive to substances that are irritating or that cause an allergic reaction (triggers). The airways tighten, spasm, swell, become narrower, and produce thick mucus when exposed to triggers--substances and conditions that are safe for most people but dangerous to asthmatics. This process makes it more difficult to breathe. 

Possible triggers include:

  • Allergens, such as dust, mold, pollen, cockroach droppings, and pet dander

  • Air pollutants, such as tobacco smoke, wood smoke, chemicals in the air, and ozone

  • Respiratory infections

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease

  • Some medications, such as aspirin in susceptible individuals

  • Cold air

  • Strenuous physical exercise

  • Stress or intense emotional reactions

These facts about the disease can help you understand why asthma requires treatment:

  • Asthma cannot be cured, but it can be controlled.

  • It's potentially life-threatening. A "mild" condition can become worse.

  • It's always with you. "Quiet" periods can be suddenly interrupted by acute, "noisy" episodes.

  • You don't outgrow it. Symptoms can reoccur later in life.

Take control

Early diagnosis is one key to effective asthma management. This helps you prevent or minimize damage to airways and lungs that accumulates over time.

Once the disease is diagnosed, it's important that you take control of it. Proper treatment includes seeing your health care provider regularly, developing an asthma action plan with your health care provider, taking recommended medications, monitoring your condition using a peak flow meter, and preventing or minimizing exposure to your asthma triggers in the environment.

Asthma medications work in two ways:

  • Rescue, or quick relief, medications are short-acting bronchodilators, that open up airways during asthma attacks. These medications work within minutes.

  • Controller medications, such as inhaled corticosteroids or leukotriene inhibitors, are taken every day and help prevent asthma attacks by controlling inflammation of the bronchial passages. Long-acting bronchodilators do not control inflammation, and do not help relieve an acute asthma attack. They are usually taken daily and work to help keep airways open. The full benefits of these medications become evident within a few weeks. If you stop taking long-term control medicines, your asthma will likely become worse.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends a partnership between you and your health provider that allows for an ongoing monitoring of not only your asthma symptoms, but also your quality of life and your ability to function on a daily basis. Through this type of partnership, your changing health care needs can be met in a comprehensive and effective manner.