May is Asthma Awareness Month, making it the perfect time to learn more about a condition that affects 25 million Americans. While there is not a cure, there are steps you can take to help manage symptoms and feel your best.
Let’s start with the basics. Asthma is a chronic condition that affects your lungs by causing your airways to narrow, swell and produce extra mucus. It can make breathing difficult, cause coughing and wheezing and lead to shortness of breath. Asthma attacks occur when something bothers your lungs. The triggers are different for everyone but include the following.
- Exercise-induced asthma – This type of asthma attack can be triggered by exercise, especially when the air is particularly cold or dry.
- Occupational asthma – These attacks can be caused by exposure to workplace irritants such as chemical fumes, gases or dust.
- Allergy-induced asthma – This type of asthma attack is brought on by airborne substances, such as pollen, mold, tobacco smoke or other allergens.
- Stress-induced asthma – These asthma attacks may be triggered by strong emotions and stressful situations.
There are a few factors that can put you at a higher risk for having asthma. These include family history, being overweight, smoking and having another allergic condition. Being exposed to secondhand smoke, exhaust fumes, occupational chemicals and other types of pollution may also increase your risk.
Asthma symptoms are different for everyone and may come and go depending on your activities. These symptoms may include the following.
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or tightness
- Coughing or wheezing
- Difficulty sleeping
Signs your asthma may be worsening include experiencing more frequent symptoms, having difficulty breathing and needing to use an inhaler more often. If you have asthma and notice any of these warning signs, it’s time to talk to your personal doctor.
Asthma is typically diagnosed through a physical exam and a lung function test such as spirometry or peak flow. These tests are used to determine how much air moves in and out of your lungs while breathing. If your doctor determines you have asthma, treatment may include long-term medication – typically taken daily – and quick-relief medication, which is used during an asthma attack. Some medications are breathed in via an inhaler, while others are given in pill form. Everyone is different and your doctor will help you determine which medication is right for you.
There are also lifestyle changes you can make to help manage symptoms and get asthma under control.
- Avoid dust build up by cleaning your home on a weekly basis
- Wash your bedding in hot water weekly
- Use an air conditioner so you can keep your windows closed. It can also help to lower humidity and reduce mold and dust mites.
- Consider installing hardwood flooring in place of carpet
- Wear a face covering when it’s cold and dry outside
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Get regular exercise
If you need help managing seasonal allergy symptoms, talk to your personal doctor. To find a personal doctor near you, talk to your health insurance provider.