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Common Conditions

Asthma

Asthma is a condition caused by chronic inflammation of the airways and is characterized by coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and/or chest tightness. During an asthma attack, muscles lining the airway constrict, and the airway begins to swell and secrete mucus, which blocks air from effectively getting in and out of the lungs. Asthma can be categorized into four different types, including Exercise-Induced Asthma, Occupational Asthma, Childhood Asthma, and Allergic Asthma.

Cause

Asthma is caused by a strong immune response to a foreign substance or allergen in the lungs. Asthma attacks are most commonly triggered by allergies, poor air quality, cold air, physical exertion, exposure to tobacco smoke, dust mites, pets, emotional stress, infections, certain medications, certain foods, exposure to chemicals, acid reflux, and exposure to pests such as cockroaches and mice. Risk factors for asthma include smoking/secondhand smoke exposure, obesity, family history of asthma, allergies, exposure to pollution or exhaust fumes, and respiratory infections.

Symptoms

Symptoms of asthma include:

  • Coughing (may be chronic)

  • Wheezing

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest pain or tightness

  • Fatigue

  • Difficulty eating in infants

  • Difficulty sleeping due to coughing and wheezing

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Asthma attacks often reoccur at similar times such as at night or early morning, during or following exercise, when laughing or crying, with certain seasons, and with exposure to asthma triggers. Severe and sudden signs may be life threatening. If such occurs, seek emergency help, or see a doctor immediately.

Treatment

Treatment for asthma often involves long-term medication prescribed by a doctor along with short-term relief inhalers such as albuterol. Those with Allergic Asthma may be treated with allergy shots over time. It is important for individuals with asthma to develop an asthma action plan that allows them to identify triggers, how to recognize and handle asthma attacks, when and what medications to take, when to contact emergency medical services, and who to contact in an emergency. It is also recommended to have a written plan for handling asthma, treat all attacks early, and take all medications consistently. 

To see how to use an inhaler, watch the following videos:

Prevention

There is currently no preventative treatment for asthma, but to avoid and/or minimize symptoms, one should stay up to date on all vaccines (especially flu and pneumonia), avoid triggers, treat attacks early, maintain a healthy weight, avoid smoking, avoid chemical exposure or exposure to poor air quality, treat all allergies and medical conditions, and see a doctor on a regular basis.

Resources

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. (n.d.). Asthma.  https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/asthma 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, September 06). Learn how to control asthma. https://www.cdc.gov/asthma/faqs.htm 

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020, August 11). Asthma. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/asthma/symptoms-causes/syc-20369653 

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2020, December 03). Asthma. National Institutes of Health.  https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/asthma