Asthma is a chronic disease that affects your airways (tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs). If you have asthma, the inside walls of your airways are swollen. The inflammation makes the airways very sensitive, and they tend to react strongly to things that you are allergic to or find irritating.

Overview and Symptoms

Symptoms of asthma include:

  • Wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe)
  • Coughing
  • Chest tightness
  • Trouble breathing (especially at night and in the early morning)

In many cases, a diagnosis of asthma is made based upon your history and symptoms at the time of evaluation. Also, a family history of asthma increases your chances of developing asthma.

Your doctor may have you perform a number of tests to evaluate breathing. These may include:

  • Detailed medical history and physical exam
  • Breathing tests called spirometry
  • Environmental allergy testing

Other tests may include:

  • Bronchial Provocation Test
  • Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction Test
  • Routine Pulmonary Function Test

Treatment

Your doctor can work with you to decide your treatment goals and determine how best to control your asthma to achieve these goals.

Asthma treatment includes:

  • Avoiding triggers that bring on your asthma symptoms or make your symptoms worse. Doing so can reduce the amount of medicine you need to control your asthma.
  • Using asthma medicines. Allergy medicine and shots may also help control asthma in some people.
  • Monitoring your asthma so that you can recognize when your symptoms are getting worse and respond quickly to prevent or stop an asthma attack.
Asthma Self-Management Plan

Your doctor will work with you to develop an Asthma Action Plan for controlling your asthma on a daily basis. This plan will tell you what medicines you should take and other things you should do to keep your asthma under control.

Quick-relief Medicines

Everyone with asthma needs a quick-relief or "rescue" medicine to stop asthma symptoms before they get worse. Short-acting inhaled beta-agonists, like Abuterol, are the preferred quick-relief medicine. These medicines are bronchodilators. They act quickly to relax tightened muscles around your airways so that the airways can open up and allow more air to flow through.

Long-term Control Medicines

The most effective, long-term control medicine for asthma is an inhaled corticosteroid (kor-ti-ko-STE-roid) because this medicine reduces the airway swelling that makes asthma attacks more likely. Inhaled corticosteroids (or steroids for short) are the preferred medicine for controlling mild, moderate, and severe persistent asthma. They are generally safe when taken as directed by your doctor.
In some cases, steroid tablets or liquid are used for short periods of time to bring asthma under control. The tablet or liquid form may also be used to control severe asthma.

Use a Peak Flow Meter

As part of your daily asthma self-management plan, your doctor may recommend that you use a hand-held device called a peak flow meter at home to monitor how well your lungs are working.
You use the peak flow meter by taking a deep breath in and then blowing the air out hard into the peak flow meter. The peak flow meter then gives you a peak flow number that tells you how fast you moved the air out.

Learn More

The Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine provides comprehensive care for patients with critical illness, thoracic diseases and sleep-related disorders. We are committed to helping you breathe easier.

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