According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute asthma is considered a chronic lung disease that causes inflammation and narrowing of the airways causing recurring symptoms of wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing (Asthma). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that approximately 25 million individuals have asthma and of those diagnosed with asthma approximately 12 million have at least one asthma attack each year (Vital Signs, 2011). The number of individuals diagnosed with asthma each year is growing, and the monetary cost in the United States is approximately $56 billion (Vital Signs, 2011). While there is no cure for asthma with the right education and medical care individuals can control their symptoms and lead healthy, happy, productive lives. The key to preventing serious and life-threatening asthma attacks is to understand the signs and symptoms of asthma and how to control asthma triggers. Listed below is important information about asthma and how to control and treat asthma to prevent life-threatening attacks.
What Causes Asthma Attacks
Unfortunately, there is no clear answer as to what causes asthma, what is known is that asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways that causes different symptoms in different individuals (Asthma Causes and Triggers). One constant with an asthma attack is that it is triggered when an individual’s airways come in contact with an asthma trigger causing the airways to narrow, become inflamed, and fill up with mucus (Asthma Causes and Triggers). While it is unclear as to what causes asthma, genetic and environmental factors often interact causing individuals to develop asthma. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute listed below are some of the possible causes of asthma:
Atopy – Atopy is the genetic tendency to develop allergies, so if individuals within your family have asthma you and your children will have a greater chance of developing asthma.
Childhood Respiratory Infections – Having respiratory infections in childhood can compromise the lungs and airways causing inflammation of the airways leading to a greater chance of developing asthma.
Irritants – Exposure to irritants including cigarette smoke, pollen, animal dander, and dust mites can increase an individuals chance of developing asthma by causing the airways to become sensitive to these irritants and the more they are exposed to these irritants the more likely they are of developing asthma.
Hygiene Hypothesis – The hygiene hypothesis is a theory that due to an increased focus on hygiene and sanitation young children are not exposed to the types of infections, and environmental factors like children did in the past which affects the way their immune systems develop leaving them at risk for developing asthma (Asthma).
While it may be unclear what causes an individual to develop asthma, what is clear are the factors that contribute to an asthma attack. Listed below are some of the most common triggers that can cause an asthma attack:
Allergens including pollen, dust mites, and animal dander
Crying or Laughing
Upper Respiratory Infections
Strong odors like perfume or cleaning products
If an individual is diagnosed with asthma, it is important to identify asthma triggers and be sure to take steps to avoid these triggers or to minimize their effects through a treatment plan with your doctor. By avoiding asthma attacks or controlling them before they become too serious can be a matter between life and death.
Asthma Signs and Symptoms
While the cause of asthma may be hard to pinpoint, signs and symptoms of asthma are pretty straight forward. During an asthma attack, an individual’s airways become swollen and inflamed as well as the muscles around the individual’s airways will contract and produce extra mucus which leads to the following symptoms:
Severe Shortness of Breath
While the degree of the asthma attack will vary from individual to individual, it is important to make sure they follow any treatment steps their doctor has given them in their asthma plan (Staff). One of the most common ways to help ease the symptoms of an asthma attack is by using a rescue inhaler prescribed by a doctor which contain medicine to clear up asthma attack symptoms quickly (Staff). If the steps taken by the individual, including using a rescue inhaler, do not work it is important to have them seek medical attention as soon as possible.
In addition to the symptoms listed above there are some early warning signs that can indicate that an asthma attack may occur and they include:
Feeling Edgy or Nervous
Dark Circles Under The Eyes (Staff)
While the above early warning signs could be because of other illnesses or causes individuals who have asthma should take the time to make sure they are not foretelling an asthma attack.
While most asthma attacks are treated at home by following the individual’s asthma plan some signs indicate a serious and life-threatening asthma attack and if an individual experience any of the signs below they will need to call their local emergency number or 911 immediately and they include:
Lips or fingernails are blue or gray
Inability to walk or talk due to lack of air
The individual is hunched over
The individual is confused or less responsive (Staff).
It is important to understand the signs and symptoms of an asthma attack so that individuals can receive the proper treatment as soon as possible. The duration of an asthma attack can vary from a mild attack that may last a couple of minutes to a severe attack that can last days, either way; proper medical attention is necessary to relieve the attack before it turns fatal.
Adult Onset of Asthma
While Asthma is often diagnosed during childhood, it can also present during adulthood, and when asthma is diagnosed in an individual over 20 years old, it is called adult-onset asthma (Adult-Onset Asthma). The symptoms of childhood and adult-onset asthma are the same for children they are intermittent and for adults. They are persistent (Why Asthma Can Hit You Harder as an Adult, 2017). Some individuals are more susceptible to developing adult-onset asthma than others, and they include:
Individuals with allergies
Women who are pregnant or going through menopause as this is a time of hormonal change
Women taking estrogen for ten years or more
Individuals recovering from illness including the flu or common cold
Individuals with chronic heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Individuals exposed to irritants including smoke, mould, dust, or perfume (Adult-Onset Asthma).
Individuals diagnosed with adult-onset asthma will often experience the following symptoms:
Chest pressure or tightness
Shortness of breath
Colds that progress to the chest quickly
Cold symptoms that linger (Why Asthma Can Hit You Harder as an Adult, 2017)
It is important to understand that adult-onset asthma is more dangerous and has a higher death rate than childhood asthma (Why Asthma Can Hit You Harder as an Adult, 2017). For adults, the symptoms of adult-onset asthma can be missed because they can present the same symptoms as some of the disorders listed below:
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) (Why Asthma Can Hit You Harder as an Adult, 2017).
What makes adult-onset asthma so dangerous is the delay in diagnosis, and subsequent treatment of asthma can lead to permanent lung damage and permanent impairment of lung function which is why the death rate for adult-onset asthma is much higher than childhood asthma (Why Asthma Can Hit You Harder as an Adult, 2017). Even when adult-onset asthma is diagnosed promptly it can be difficult to control and treat for the following reasons:
Oral steroids used to treat adult-onset asthma can make conditions including cataracts, glaucoma, and osteoporosis worse
The medications used to treat adult-onset asthma are less effective especially for individuals who are obese
The muscles that support deep breathing are weaker in adults, and the chest walls and lungs are stiffer
Individuals who are taking beta-blockers to treat heart problems can have increased severity of asthma (Why Asthma Can Hit You Harder as an Adult, 2017)
While adult-onset asthma may be more difficult to treat and have a higher death rate than childhood asthma the prognosis is not bleak, and there are ways adults can help to keep their asthma under control and avoid serious life-threatening attacks, and they include:
Take prescription drugs as directed by your doctor
Monitor lung capacity
Use rescue inhaler properly
Develop an asthma action plan and stick to it (Why Asthma Can Hit You Harder as an Adult, 2017)
By closely following your doctor’s asthma plan and taking prescriptions drugs properly individuals diagnosed with adult-onset asthma can keep their symptoms under control and mitigate their risk factors. It is important that adults check with their doctor before taking any new medications (including those over the counter) to make sure they do not interact with their asthma medications and that they monitor their lung capacity closely to make sure there are no changes that their doctor needs to be aware of (Why Asthma Can Hit You Harder as an Adult, 2017). Adults who take the time to learn and understand their adult-onset asthma as well as treat the condition properly to have happy, healthy lives.
Asthma Control Test
An asthma control test is a specific questionnaire administered to individuals diagnosed with asthma to help their doctor determine if the treatment plan they are using is keeping the individual’s asthma symptoms under control. There are two different questionnaires as one administered to children between the ages of 4-11 and one administered to individuals over the age of 12. These tests are generally taken every four weeks, and for children, they include pictures and questions that can include:
Do you cough because of your asthma?
Do you wake up during the night because of your asthma?
How much of a problem is your asthma when you run, exercise or play sports? (Childhood Asthma Control Test for Children 4-11 years old.)
Each question is assigned a point value and is written in a score box on the side of the test, and then when all the questions are complete, the scores are added together to find out the child’s total score. A score of 19 or less means that the child’s asthma is not under control and it is important to make an appointment with their doctor to revise their asthma treatment (Childhood Asthma Control Test for Children 4-11 years old.)
Adults and children over the age of 12 can take an asthma control test online at asthma.com and it will be scored automatically but will not be saved to the website, so if you want to take the test with you to your next doctor’s appointment, you will need to print it out. Some of the questions on the adult questionnaire include:
During the past four weeks, how often have you had shortness of breath?
In the past four weeks, how much of the time did your asthma keep you from getting as much done at work, school or at home?
During the past four weeks, how often did your asthma symptoms (wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, chest tightness or pain) wake you up at night or earlier than usual in the morning? (Asthma Control Test).
By filling out an asthma control tests on a regular basis individuals with diagnosed asthma can help understand and control their asthma symptoms and if they seem to be getting worse they can bring the questionnaire with them to their next doctor’s appointment and discuss with their doctor about altering their medicine or adjust their written asthma control plan as needed.
Asthma Treatment Guidelines
Asthma is a condition that affects individuals differently, and while many of the signs and symptoms may be the same, the severity and frequency of the signs and symptoms can vary greatly from individual to individual. While asthma is usually diagnosed in childhood, some adults will develop adult-onset asthma which can be harder to treat and maintain than childhood asthma. Listed below are the recommended treatment guidelines for asthma:
Initial Visit with Doctor
Assess the Severity of the Asthma
Start Medication Treatment and Demonstrate Use
Develop Written Asthma Action Plan
Schedule Follow-Up Visits (Asthma Care Quick Reference)
Assess and Monitor Asthma Control
Review Medication Technique and Adherence
Assess Side Effects
Review Environmental Control
Step Up Medication
Step Down Medication
Review Written Asthma Action Plan
Revise as Needed
Schedule Follow Up Visits (Asthma Care Quick Reference)
To control an individuals asthma, it is important to follow the established treatment guidelines because asthma varies in onset and severity between individuals it is vital to follow the advice and treatment plan created by your doctor. When it comes to asthma treatment, not everyone takes the same medicine each person has a specific treatment plan from their doctor and medications can be in the form of pills, inhalers, or nebulizers it all depends on the individual and their doctor (How Is Asthma Treated?). Regularly seeing your doctor and following the asthma treatment guidelines can be vital to treating and maintaining your asthma as well as preventing it from becoming worse. Taking medicines as prescribed and how they are prescribed, following the written asthma action plan, and reporting any new or increasing asthma symptoms can mean the difference between living with asthma or dying from it. It is up to each person diagnosed with asthma to work with their doctor and follow the established treatment guidelines for a healthy and happy life.
Natural Asthma Treatment
Many individuals prefer to use natural or homeopathic remedies for their illnesses and luckily those diagnosed with adult-onset asthma have natural asthma treatment options available. While research on natural asthma treatments is limited, there is no reason not to give them a try, but it is important to seek medical attention if your asthma symptoms worsen. Listed below are some of the most common natural asthma treatments:
Yoga – Adults lead stressful lives between work and family, and this stress can trigger asthma symptoms so the breathing exercises used in yoga can help to ease stress and asthma (Natural Asthma Remedies).
Acupuncture – While no studies have conclusively proved that acupuncture can help with asthma, people have found that it helps to reduce asthma attacks and can help with breathing (Natural Asthma Remedies).
Dietary Supplements and Herbs – Again while there is no definitive proof many individuals diagnosed with asthma swear by them and some of the common ones they take are vitamin C, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, and magnesium (Natural Asthma Remedies). It is important to check with your doctor before taking any dietary supplements or herbs to make sure they will not interact with any medications you are currently taking.
Weight Loss – One factor that contributes to asthma is obesity so individuals who have been diagnosed with asthma and are overweight can help alleviate their symptoms by losing weight (Wong, 2018).
Biofeedback – Biofeedback involves using visual and auditory feedback to help individuals gain control over involuntary body functions including asthma. Biofeedback can help individuals control heart rate, blood flow, muscle tension, and blood pressure all of which can help to lessen the symptoms and effects of asthma (Wong, 2018).
Bromelain – Bromelain is an extract that comes from pineapples and is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties since asthma causes airway inflammation it is thought that bromelain can help to reduce airway inflammation and help control asthma (Wong, 2018).
Fruits and Vegetables – Well mom was right eating your fruits and vegetables, at least if you want to help with asthma. The food diaries of over 68,000 women were analyzed, and there seems to be a correlation between the consumption of carrots, tomatoes, and leafy vegetables and a lower risk of asthma (Wong, 2018). Children who had a daily intake of vegetables and fruits also show a decreased risk of asthma, so eat your fruits and vegetables to help reduce your asthma risk (Wong, 2018).
While eating a proper diet of fruits and vegetables and foods with antioxidants and nutrients can help individuals suffering from asthma by reducing the inflammatory response, listed below are some of the foods that can trigger asthma attacks and by eliminating them from the diet of an individual with asthma can help alleviate their symptoms:
Food Coloring – Food coloring can trigger asthma attacks especially yellow food dye to avoid them to help with asthma (Dr. Josh Axe, 2018).
Vegetable Oils – Diets that are high in foods fried in vegetable oils and hydrogenated fats have been shown to increase asthma (Dr. Josh Axe, 2018).
Processed Foods – Processed foods are high in sugar and contributes to increased growth of yeast which can trigger asthma as well as robbing the body of the vital nutrients from the digestive tract (Dr. Josh Axe, 2018).
Animal Products Treated with Hormones and Antibiotics- The extra chemicals used to treat animal products with hormones and antibiotics can increase asthma risk as well as fish that is high in mercury should be avoided (Dr. Josh Axe, 2018).
Because asthma is a condition that affects an individuals lungs and ability to breath properly it is important to always check with their doctor before trying any new or natural asthma treatments to make sure they are healthy enough and that they do not interfere with any ongoing treatments. Just because something is natural, it does not always mean it is healthy.
Asthma is a lung condition that narrows an individuals airway thus preventing them from breathing properly. Asthma does not affect everyone the same way so each individual will need to work with their doctor to find the right medication to control their symptoms as well as recognize what triggers their asthma attacks so they can avoid these and help to keep them symptom-free. While controlling asthma symptoms is up to each individual and their doctor there are many treatment plans and ways to control asthma that can help individuals maintain a happy and healthy life while keeping their asthma in check.