While for many people asthma is only a minor inconvenience, it can greatly interfere with everyday activities when it is poorly controlled. Such a situation can be avoided, however.
Asthma is a chronic disease of the airways that is accompanied by inflammation and a narrowing of the bronchi. The body also produces excess mucous, which makes breathing even more difficult. Asthma cannot be cured, but its symptoms can be effectively controlled with the proper treatment and follow-up. Treatment involves taking medication and removing triggers from the asthma sufferer’s environment. Since asthma evolves over time, it is also important to periodically evaluate how well your asthma is controlled, and ensure that you get regular medical follow-ups. This approach has proven beneficial, resulting in improved lung function, along with reduced absenteeism, unplanned visits to the doctor’s and hospitalizations.
Knowing, understanding and applying your action plan
The written action plan is a document that includes a variety of information such as how often you should self-assess your asthma, directions for maintaining your asthma control, simple and concrete instructions on how to adjust your medication during an exacerbation, as well as the signs and symptoms that signal an attack and require that you see a physician immediately.
The action plan is a valuable tool to help asthmatics take control of their health so that they can better manage their disease. Used correctly, it lets you know when and how to react quickly if symptoms seem to be worsening, thus reducing the risk that the aggravation will become an attack that requires emergency care and puts your life in danger.
If you do not yet have a written action plan for your asthma, speak to your doctor about getting one!
Medications used to treat asthma
The cornerstone of asthma therapy is a class of medication called inhaled corticosteroids. This medication is used every day and acts by reducing lung inflammation, which is the main problem with asthma.
Corticosteroids improve lung function while reducing symptoms and the frequency and severity of asthma attacks. They are usually well tolerated. It is important to rinse your mouth after applying the medication, in order to reduce the risk of local adverse effects.
Some asthmatics may need to use a long-acting bronchodilator in addition to their inhaled corticosteroids. This medication acts by relaxing the bronchial tubes in order to ease breathing. Its effect lasts for approximately twelve hours. In order to simplify treatment, physicians often prescribe a medication that contains both a corticosteroid and a long-acting bronchodilator.
All asthmatics should also carry fast-acting rescue medication, which acts by dilating the bronchi. It is used as needed to relieve acute asthma symptoms. When your asthma is well controlled, you should not need to use it regularly. In fact, if you need to use it more than three times per week to relieve daytime symptoms, including during or before exercise, this is a sign that your asthma is not well controlled, as is having to use it more than once a week at night.
Evaluating your asthma control
Your degree of asthma control can be evaluated using the short questionnaire included in your action plan, but also through a regular and objective evaluation of your degree of bronchial tube obstruction, which is measured with a peak flow meter. This little unit is basically a spout equipped with a cursor that moves along a graduated scale, making it possible to measure the maximum speed at which asthmatic individuals can expel air from their lungs.
Taking your medication properly: The key to long-lasting symptom control!
Since asthma cannot be cured, it’s important to take your maintenance medication regularly. And it’s equally important that you do not stop taking it once you feel better! In fact, the reason you feel better is that you are taking your medication regularly. If you stop taking it, your lungs will become inflamed again and your respiratory symptoms will come back to haunt you during your everyday tasks.
How you use your “pumps” is just as important as how regularly you use them. If your technique is incorrect, your lungs may not be getting enough medication to adequately control your symptoms. Some people use a spacer to help them take medication delivered through a metered-dose inhaler. Speak to your pharmacist about this option.
Breathe more easily by cleaning out your environment
Environmental factors play an important role in the persistence and severity of asthma, and also in the ability to control its symptoms.
Smoking remains one of the leading asthma triggers. Avoid being exposed to second-hand smoke by demanding that your loved ones smoke outdoors.
Prevent respiratory tract infections as much as possible. To do so, asthmatic individuals should get their flu shot every year. Some experts also recommend getting the pneumococcal vaccine, which fights a bacterium that often causes pneumonia (get this vaccine at least once in your life, with a booster shot every five to ten years, as recommended by your doctor).
It is estimated that a quarter of all asthma cases in adults are caused by workplace exposure, most commonly to dust or chemicals. Whenever possible, take advantage of the protective measures available to you, such as wearing a mask.
If you have asthma and are allergic to your pet, it is strongly recommended that you find it a new home. Even if you wash your pet often and are diligent about vacuuming, coming into daily contact with your allergy trigger only results in aggravating your airway inflammation.
Asthma is a chronic disease that, when adequately controlled, does not interfere with leading a normal life. Regular medical follow-ups and self-evaluations of your asthma control are crucial, as is understanding your action plan and using it when your symptoms are aggravated. If you have asthma and do not have an action plan, discuss the matter with your physician.