Patients Need a Treatment Plan
Asthma is a chronic lunch disease that usually can be controlled with medication but cannot be cured. In asthma, the lining of the airways are inflamed, leading to excess mucus production, which clogs airways, and muscle constriction, which narrows the airways. Breathing thus becomes difficult. The typical symptoms of asthma are shortness of breath, a tight feeling in the chest, coughing, and wheezing. However, some patients have only a cough or burning feeling when they breathe. An asthma attack can become a medical emergency, requiring hospitalization. Asthma attacks can be deadly if they are not recognized and treated promptly. The best way to treat asthma is to control it so attacks do not develop, and to follow a treatment plan designed by an asthma specialist. For most asthmatic patients, this means taking daily medication, either inhaled, orally, or both. If breathing is difficult, a patient can check his or her airways with a peak flow meter and, if necessary, use a “rescue” medication. Patients should understand their treatment plan, know which medications to use and how to use them properly, and when it is necessary to call the doctor.
Control of asthma includes use of quick-relief drugs — short-acting bronchodilators that expand the narrowed lung airways — and preventive long-term anti-inflammatory or bronchodilator drugs that are taken every day.
Goal Is to Control Symptoms
Approximately 17 million people in the U.S. suffer from asthma, and thousands die each year from attacks that are not recognized and treated promptly. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With early diagnosis and the proper treatment plan, patients don’t have to visit the emergency room, stay overnight in the hospital, or avoid their favorite activities. There are three main reasons why asthma leads to difficult breathing: the airways become inflamed, or swollen, making them narrower; excess mucus is produced by the airways, clogging them and making it difficult to move air in and out of hte lungs; and airways become oversensitive to environmental conditions or infections, known as triggers, that set off asthma attacks.
Constricted Airways: During an asthma attack, airways that are already inflamed become even more constricted with mucus, and the muscles around the airways tighten. Breathing becomes very difficult. At this point, the constricted airways must be opened with a quick-relief medication, such as an inhaled bronchodilator. But the best treatment is to keep asthma under control with long-term medications that are taken daily to avoid repeated asthma attacks. An important tool for monitoring asthma, which can be used at home or work any time, is a small, portable device called a peak flow meter. It measures how fast air can be blown out of the lungs after taking a deep breath. It is actually measuring the amount of obstruction (or narrowing) in the airways. The peak flow meter can give a patient an early warning that his or her asthma is getting worse, even a day or two before symptoms. This early warning can help the asthmatic patient adjust medicine use to avoid emergency room visits or hospitalizations.
Asthma Classifications and Triggers: Asthmatic patients are classified as having mild intermittent asthma (symptoms twice a week or less), nighttime symptoms (twice a month or less), mild persistent asthma (symptoms 3-6 times a week or 3-4 times at night each month), moderate persistent asthma (daily symptoms and nighttime symptoms five or more nights each month), or severe persistent asthma (continual symptoms during the day and frequent nighttime symptoms). All patients with asthma should know their asthma classification, know what their lungs are sensitive to, or what causes their asthma symptoms to worsen. Recording symptoms in a diary can tell you when your asthma began to get worse, and what you came in contact with before that happened. Knowing your triggers can help you avoid them and keep your asthma under control. Common triggers include allergens (pollen, mold, house dust, animals, cockroaches, or foods); air pollution (car exhaust, cigarette smoke, ozone); indoor pollution (wood fireplaces, spray cleaners, paints, or workplace or household chemicals); lung infections (pneumonia, colds, flu virus); cold air; exercise and emotional stress.
Allergy Shots: Your doctor may test you for allergies if it appears your asthma is worsened by allergens. Many asthmatic patients see a dramatic improvement of their asthma symptoms after desensitizing “allergy” shots are administered over a period of time. If you have allergies, it is recommended that you remove or reduce as many allergens in your home or workplace as possible. Your doctor or pharmacist can tell you the best way to do this.