- 7 Things That Can Cause Asthma
- Respiratory infections
- Air pollution and smoke
- Your job
- 7 Tips to keep your asthma under control
- Guide to Asthma
- Asthma Symptom Facts
- The National Asthma Council Australia
- Healthy habits can help you manage your asthma
- Go smoke-free
- Tips for quitting
- Enjoy healthy eating
- Enjoy a physically active lifestyle
- Lighten the load on your lungs
- Avoid the flu
- Take care of your mental health
- Plan a healthy pregnancy with asthma
- For Health Professionals
- Recommended Citation
- Asthma: 7 Surprising Things You Should Know
- SURPRISING FACT #1
- SURPRISING FACT #2
- SURPRISING FACT #3
- SURPRISING FACT #4
- SURPRISING FACT #5
- SURPRISING FACT #6
- SURPRISING FACT #7
- Medication Mistakes Even Smart Parents Make
- Which Meds Does Your Child Need?
7 Things That Can Cause Asthma
You’re probably familiar with some of the many triggers of acute asthma attacks with their alarming symptoms of wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. Such triggers can include anything from pollen to exercise to stress and more. But asthma triggers are different from actual causes of asthma.
Scientists are still teasing out exactly what those causes are. But here’s what we know so far about what can cause asthma to develop—and what you might be able to do about it.
RELATED: 7 Signs You Could Have Asthma
Many diseases are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, and asthma is no exception. By some estimates, 50% or more of asthma cases stem from the genes you inherit.
“We have definitely found genetic traits,” says Traci Gonzales, a spokesperson for the American Lung Association and a nurse practitioner with UTHealth McGovern Medical School at Houston. “If parents have asthma, their kids are more ly to have it.”
You’re also more ly to develop asthma if you have family members with allergies. (A genetic predisposition to develop asthma and other allergic conditions is called atopy.)
Researchers have already identified dozens of genes which may be involved, and there are ly many more. Some have to do with your body’s immune system and others with how your airways function. But genes alone probably aren’t enough to cause asthma. More ly, it’s a combination of inheriting the right (or wrong) genes, which must then be activated by an environmental trigger.
Sometimes asthma triggers and causes can overlap. Many cases of adult-onset asthma are caused by an allergy dust mites or mold.
Although you can’t predict which allergy might cause asthma to develop (you may not even know you have an allergy), you can control symptoms by avoiding your triggers. If you don’t already know what these are, an allergist can help you identify your specific allergens.
RELATED: What Is Allergic Asthma, the Most Common Type of Asthma?
Infections, particularly respiratory infections, can cause asthma, especially in young children.
“Children’s immune systems are still developing and changes [from an infection] can unfortunately trigger long-term outcomes in little ones,” Gonzales says.
The most common culprits are respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and parainfluenza, both of which can cause cold- symptoms, says Gonzales.
Viral and other infections aren’t entirely preventable, but you can do your part by getting the appropriate vaccinations ( for the seasonal flu) and washing your hands, says Gonzales.
Air pollution and smoke
Not all experts agree, but there is evidence to suggest that both air pollution and secondhand smoke may cause asthma to develop in people who don’t already have the condition.
In particular, there is compelling research supporting the idea that exposure to cigarette smoke in childhood (or before you are born through your mother) may be involved in asthma. This could be both indirect (by making a child susceptible to infections that then increase the risk of asthma) or direct (by affecting the immune system or development of the respiratory system).
“We are seeing a trend with exposure to smoking,” says Gonzales, “but we don’t know if we have exactly [figured out] the mechanism. It could be secondhand or in utero exposure, or smokers themselves having a higher incidence of asthma.”
Cigarette smoking itself doesn’t seem to cause adult-onset asthma, but it will certainly aggravate symptoms of existing asthma.
RELATED: 8 Types of Asthma—and What to Know About Each
Occupational asthma is caused by exposure to irritants— fumes, dust, or gases—on the job. Certain occupations, such as baking, farming, and chemical or plastic manufacturing, may pose a higher than average risk. Some people may develop asthma as soon as they’re exposed to a toxin on the job, but it's more ly after chronic exposure, says Gonzales.
Add asthma to the long list of health conditions caused or exacerbated by obesity. According to the American Lung Association, people who are obese (with a body mass index of 30 or more) have a higher rate of asthma—11% versus only 7% of adults with a healthy BMI. The connection is even stronger for women: Almost 15% of obese women suffer from asthma.
No one knows exactly why this is the case. But being overweight is associated with inflammation in many parts of the body. This inflammation may play a role in asthma. People who are obese also tend to have a harder time controlling asthma symptoms.
“We’re seeing this in adults especially but, unfortunately, also in kids,” says Gonzales. “That’s definitely one you can strive to avoid with exercise and healthy eating.”
RELATED: What You Need to Know About Exercise-Induced Asthma
More women than men have asthma, according to the CDC, and some of this may have to do with hormones. Experts have noticed a correlation between the onset of asthma and changing levels of hormones estrogen. More research is needed to understand why that might be.
Some women or girls with asthma also notice a change in symptoms during puberty, before or during their period, during or right after pregnancy, and before or after menopause.
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7 Tips to keep your asthma under control
Almost three million Canadians and more than 300 million people worldwide have asthma, including many top athletes. Asthma is a common chronic lung disease that can make it difficult to breathe. Although there is no cure for asthma, those with the condition can live healthy, active lives if their asthma is under control.
For World Asthma Day (May 5th), the Canadian Lung Association has some helpful tips for people with asthma.
1. Know your triggers and avoid them
Triggers allergens and irritants can make your asthma symptoms worse by irritating your airways. The best way to control your asthma is to know what your asthma triggers are and how to avoid them.
2. Take your asthma medication as prescribed by your doctor
Many people think they can skip their asthma preventer (controller) medications when they don't feel any symptoms – that's not true.
Asthma is a chronic (long-term) disease. If you have asthma, you have it all the time, even when you don't feel symptoms. You have to manage your asthma every day, not just on days when you feel symptoms.
Read more about asthma medications and how to use them.
3. Learn how to use your inhaler properly
Your health-care provider can show you how to use your inhaler properly so that your medicine reaches the airways.
Ask him or her to watch you useyour inhaler. Your health-care provider may offer suggestions on how to improve your technique so that the medication gets to your airways.
Watch our videos on how to properly use your inhalers.
4. Quit smoking and avoid second-hand smoke
If you smoke and have asthma, you should quit smoking as this can significantly reduce the severity and frequency of your symptoms. Smoking can also reduce the effectiveness of asthma medication. If you have asthma but don’t smoke, avoid being exposed to second-hand smoke because this may trigger worsening of your symptoms.
5. Keep fit by exercising
Exercise helps by strengthening your breathing muscles, boosting your immune system and helping to keep a healthy body weight. The key to exercising safely is to make sure your asthma is under control before you start. Learn more about exercise and asthma.
6. Be in control, get an asthma action plan
Because asthma symptoms are variable – they can get worse or better, depending on many things – you need to know how to adjust your medicines depending on your symptoms and when to seek medical help. Work with your healthcare provider to create a personalized asthma action plan for you.
7. Don’t go viral!
Viruses the cold and flu can infect people's airways and lungs. Viral infections are a common cause of asthma symptoms. If you avoid catching viruses, you will have fewer asthma symptoms. Here are some ways to avoid viruses:
- Wash your hands properly and often.
- Get the flu shot.
- Ask your health-care provider if you should get the pneumonia shot.
- Get enough sleep. If you are well rested, you may be less ly to have symptoms from a virus.
- If you have a viral infection a cold or the flu, pay attention to your symptoms. If your symptoms are getting worse, follow the directions in your asthma action plan.
If you or someone you love has asthma, you may have questions. For information on lung health issues, call us toll-free at 1-866-717-2673. In Quebec, call us toll-free at 1 800-POUMON-9.
About the Canadian Lung Association
Established in 1900, The Lung Association is one of Canada’s oldest and most respected health charities, and the leading national organization for science-based information, research, education, support programs and advocacy on lung heath issues.
Media contact:Janis HassDirector of Marketing and CommunicationsCanadian Lung Association
Guide to Asthma
Asthma is a long-term disease of the lungs. You might hear your doctor call it a chronic respiratory disease. It causes your airways to get inflamed and narrow and makes breathing difficult. Coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness are classic asthma symptoms. Severe asthma can make it hard to talk or be active. Some people refer to asthma as “bronchial asthma.”
Asthma is a serious — even dangerous — disease that affects about 25 million Americans and causes nearly 2 million emergency room visits every year. With proper treatment, you can live well. Without it, you might have to make frequent visits to the emergency room and even stay at the hospital, which can affect your home life and ability to work.
Doctors rank the severity of asthma by its symptoms:
- Mild intermittent asthma. Mild symptoms less than twice a week. Nighttime symptoms less than twice a month. Few asthma attacks.
- Mild persistent asthma. Symptoms three to six times a week. Nighttime symptoms three to four times a month. Asthma attacks might affect activities.
- Moderate persistent asthma. Symptoms three to six times a week. Nighttime symptoms three to four times a month. Asthma attacks might affect activities.
- Severe persistent asthma. You have ongoing symptoms both day and night. They’re so frequent that you have to limit your activities.
There are several:
- Adult-onset asthma. Asthma can affect you at any age, although it's more common in people under age 40. More than 20 million adult Americans, or 8.3% of the adult population, has it. You’re more ly to get it if you have a family history of asthma, allergies, or eczema.
- Status asthmaticus. These prolonged asthma attacks don’t respond to treatment with bronchodilators and are a medical emergency. They need immediate treatment.
- Asthma in children. Symptoms can vary from episode to episode in the same child. Symptoms of asthma to look for include:
- Frequent coughing spells, which may happen during play, at nighttime, or while laughing. It's important to know that coughing may be the only symptom.
- Less energy during play, or pausing to catch breath during play
- Rapid or shallow breathing
- Complaint of chest tightness or chest “hurting”
- Whistling sound when breathing in or out. This sound is called wheezing.
- Seesaw motions in the chest from labored breathing. These motions are called retractions.
- Shortness of breath, loss of breath
- Tightened neck and chest muscles
- Weakness or tiredness
- Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. You might hear this called exercise-induced asthma. It happens during physical activity when you breathe in air that’s drier that what’s in your body and your airways narrow. It can affect people who don’t have asthma, too. You’ll notice symptoms within a few minutes after you start to exercise, and they might last for 10 to 15 minutes after you stop.
- Allergic asthma. Things that trigger allergies, dust, pollen and pet dander, can also cause asthma attacks.
- Nonallergic asthma. This type flares in extreme weather. It could be the heat of summer or the cold of winter. It could also show up when you’re stressed or have a cold.
- Occupational asthma. This usually affects people who work around chemical fumes, dust, or other irritating things in the air.
- Eosinophilic asthma. This severe, chronic form is marked by high levels of white blood cells called eosinophils. This type usually affects adults between 35 and 50.
- Nocturnal asthma. When you have this, your asthma symptoms get worse at night.
- Aspirin-induced asthma. When you have this, you’ll have asthma symptoms when you take aspirin, along with a runny nose, sneezing, sinus pressure, and a cough.
- Cough-variant asthma. Un other types, the only symptom of this kind of asthma is a chronic cough.
There are three major features of asthma:
1. Airway obstruction. When you breathe normally, the bands of muscle that surround your airways are relaxed and air moves freely. But when you have asthma, those bands of muscle tighten. Air can’t move freely. When there’s less air in your lungs, you feel short of breath. The air moving out through your tightened airways causes wheezing.
2. Inflammation. People with asthma have red and swollen bronchial tubes. This inflammation can damage the lungs. Treating this inflammation is key to managing asthma in the long run.
3. Airway irritability. People with asthma have sensitive airways that tend to overreact and narrow due to even the slightest triggers.
When you have asthma, your airways react to many different things in the environment called asthma triggers. Contact with these triggers cause asthma symptoms to start or worsen. Common asthma triggers include:
- Infections sinusitis, colds, and flu
- Allergens such as pollens, mold, pet dander, and dust mites
- Irritants strong odors from perfumes or cleaning solutions
- Air pollution
- Tobacco smoke
- Cold air or changes to the weather, such as changes in temperature or humidity
- Strong emotions such as anxiety, laughter, crying, or stress
- Medications such as aspirin
An asthma attack is a sudden worsening of symptoms. With an asthma attack, your airways tighten, swell up, or fill with mucus. Common symptoms include:
- Coughing, especially at night
- Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
- Chest tightness, pain, or pressure
Not every person with asthma has the same symptoms of an asthma attack. You may not have all of them, or you may have different ones at different times. They may be subtle, having less energy. They may also vary from mild to severe between one asthma attack and the next.
If you think you have asthma, see your doctor. They’ll refer you to an asthma specialist, also known as a pulmonologist, who can examine you and run tests for asthma to see if you have it.
The doctor will start with a physical exam, then ask about your symptoms and medical history.
You’ll get lung tests to see how well your lungs work:
- Spirometry. This simple breathing test measures how much air you blow out and how fast.
- Peak flow. Peak flow tests measure how well your lungs push out air. Although they’re less accurate than spirometry, they can be a good way to test your lungs at home — even before you feel any symptoms. You use a small device called a peak flow meter for the test. It can help you figure out what makes your asthma worse, whether your treatment is working, and when you need emergency care.
- Methacholine challenge. This test is more commonly used for adults than children. You might get it if your symptoms and spirometry test don’t clearly show a diagnosis of asthma. When you have asthma and inhale methacholine, your airways narrow. During this test, you inhale increasing amounts of methacholine mist before and after spirometry. If your lung function drops by at least 20%, you have asthma. The doctor will give you medicine at the end of the test to reverse the effects of the methacholine.
- Exhaled nitric oxide test. You’ll breathe into a tube connected to a machine that measures the amount of nitric oxide in your breath. Your body makes this gas normally, but levels could be high if your airways are inflamed.
Other tests you might get include:
- Chest X-ray. While a chest X-ray isn’t an asthma test, your doctor can use it to make sure nothing else is causing your symptoms. An X-ray is an image of the inside of your body created by using low doses of radiation.
- Computerized tomography (CT). This test takes a series of X-rays and puts them together to create a cross-sectional view of your insides. A scan of your lungs and sinuses can identify any structural problems or diseases ( an infection) that can cause breathing problems or make them worse.
- Allergy tests. These can be blood or skin tests. They can help figure out if you’re allergic to pets, dust, mold, and pollen. Once you know your allergy triggers, you can get treatment to prevent them — and asthma attacks.
- Sputum eosinophils. This test looks for high levels of white blood cells (eosinophils) in the mix of saliva and mucus (sputum) that comes out when you cough.
There are many asthma treatments available to relieve your symptoms. Your doctor will work with you to create an asthma action plan that will outline your treatment and medications. They might include:
- Inhaled corticosteroids. These medications are used to treat asthma in the long term. That means you’ll take it every day to keep your asthma under control. They prevent and ease swelling inside your airways, and they may cut down mucus production. You’ll use a device called an inhaler to get the medicine into your lungs. Common inhaled corticosteroids include:
- Beclomethesone (QVAR)
- Budesonide (Pulmicort)
- Fluticasone (Flovent)
- Leukotriene modifiers. Another long-term asthma treatment, these medications block the action of leukotrienes, substances in your body that trigger an asthma attack. You take them as a pill once a day. Common leukotriene modifiers include:
- Montelukast (Singulair)
- Zafirlukast (Accolate)
- Long-acting beta-agonists. These medications relax the muscle bands that surround your airways. You might hear them called bronchodilators. You’ll take these medications with an inhaler — even when you have no symptoms. Frequently used long-acting beta agonists include:
- Formoterol (Foradil)
- Salmeterol (Serevent)
- Combination inhaler. This device gives you an inhaled corticosteroid and a long-acting beta-agonist together to ease your asthma. Common ones include:
- Budesonide and formoterol (Symbicort)
- Fluticasone and salmeterol (Advair Diskus)
- Fluticasone and vilanterol (Breo)
- Mometasone and formoterol (Dulera)
- Theophylline. It opens up your airways and eases tightness in your chest. You take this long-term medication by mouth, either by itself or with an inhaled corticosteroid.
- Short-acting beta-agonists. These are known as rescue medicines or rescue inhalers. They loosen the bands of muscles around your airways and ease symptoms wheezing, chest tightness, coughing, and shortness of breath. Examples include:
- Albuterol (Accuneb, ProAir, Proventil, Ventolin)
- Levalbuterol (Xopenex HFA)
- Anticholinergics. These bronchodilators prevent the muscle bands around your airways from tightening. Common ones include:
- Ipratropium (Atrovent)
- Tiotropium bromide (Spiriva)
You can get ipratropium in an inhaler or as a solution for a nebulizer, a device that turns liquid medicine into a mist that you breathe in through a mouthpiece. Tiotropium bromide comes in a dry inhaler, which lets you breathe the medicine in as a dry powder.
- Oral and intravenous corticosteroids. You’ll take these along with a rescue inhaler during an asthma attack. They ease swelling and inflammation in your airways. You’ll take oral steroids for short bursts between 5 days and 2 weeks. Frequently prescribed oral steroids include:
- Methylprednisolone (Medrol)
- Prednisolone (Orapred, Prelone, Pediapred)
- Prednisone (Deltasone)
You’re more ly to get steroids injected directly into a vein if you wind up in the hospital for a bad asthma attack. This will get the medication into your system more quickly.
- Biologics. If you have severe asthma that doesn’t respond to control medications, you might try a biologic:
- Omalizumab (Xolair) treats asthma caused by allergens. You get it as an injection every 2 to 4 weeks.
- Other biologics are designed to stop your immune cells from creating substances that cause inflammation. These drugs include:
- Benralizumab (Fasenra)
- Mepolizumab (Nucala)
- Reslizumab (Cinqair)
American Lung Association: “Asthma.”
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: “Asthma Overview,” “Asthma Facts and Figures,” “Peak Flow Meters.”
Murray, J. and Nadel, J. Textbook of Respiratory Medicine, Third edition, W.B. Saunders Company, 2000.
Rose, B.D. (ed). UpToDate, Wellesley, MA, 2005.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Asthma,” “Asthma Info.”
Medscape: “Aspirin and Asthma,” “Asthma Guidelines.”
American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: “Asthma Cough,” “Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction (EIB),” “Nonallergic Asthma,” “Occupational Asthma.”
American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders: “Eosinophilic Asthma.”
The Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine: “Nocturnal asthma: mechanisms and management.”
Mayo Clinic: “Albuterol (Inhalation Route),” “Asthma,” “Asthma medications: Know your options,” “Asthma: Steps in testing and diagnosis,” “CT scan,” Nitric oxide test for asthma,” “Nonallergic rhinitis.”
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: “Sinusitis.”
National Asthma Council Australia: “Asthma & Lung Function Tests.”
National Jewish Health: “Inhaled Steroids,” “Oral Steroids.”
Palo Alto Medical Foundation: “Anticholinergics,” “Dry Powder Medication,” “Inhaled Corticosteroids,” “Inhaled Medications for Asthma,” “Leukotriene Modifiers,” “Long-Acting Beta Agonists,” “Nebulizers,” “Oral Corticosteroids,” “Rescue Reliever Medications & Short-Acting Beta Agonists,” “Theophylline.”
Partners Healthcare: “Asthma & Steroids In Tablet Form.”
© 2019 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. Asthma Attack
Asthma Symptom Facts
You cough, you wheeze, and sometimes you feel you can't breathe. Asthma is so common—1 in 12 people have it—that even if you don't suffer yourself, you probably feel you know plenty about it.
But there's a lot about this condition that many people don't understand.
(The Power Nutrient Solution is the first-ever plan that tackles the root cause of virtually every major ailment and health condition today; get your copy now!)
Here are seven facts that might surprise you.
Allergies and asthma often go hand-in-hand.
Studies show that reactions to common allergens— cockroaches, dust mites, mold, pets, and pollen—can lead to inflamed airways that spasm and bring on asthma symptoms. If you suffer from asthma and your meds aren't doing the trick, undetected allergies could be the culprit, says Albert Rizzo, MD, senior medical advisor to the American Lung Association and section chief, pulmonary/critical care medicine of the Christiana Care Health System in Newark, DE. See an allergist to figure out exactly what's bothering you so you can try to steer clear.
MORE: Why Is Everyone Suddenly Drinking Aloe Juice?
You can develop asthma as an adult.
Just because you're past your 18th birthday doesn't mean you're safe. While symptoms often develop before age 5, they can crop up at any time.
Adult-onset asthma is most commonly caused by an allergic reaction to one or more chemicals, such as the kind you might be exposed to at your workplace. (About 15% of asthma cases seem to be work-related.
) Hormones, genetics, and other aspects of your environment may also play a role, says Rizzo.
You might have symptoms only when you exercise.
Many people with asthma notice that their symptoms flare up when they go for a run or a bike ride, but it's possible to have asthma symptoms only when you're active.
The bronchial tubes that bring air to your lungs can narrow as you exert yourself, leading to spasms in the surrounding muscles.
This problem—which doctors call exercised-induced broncospasms (EIB)—is most ly to happen when exercising outside in cold weather, when you breathe in air that's cooler and dryer than what's already in your airways.
See your doctor for a correct diagnosis; she might recommend taking a few puffs of the medication albuterol before you head to Zumba class and covering your mouth and nose with a scarf when exercising outside, says Rizzo. (Here are more tips for how to safely exercise with asthma.)
PMS can mess with asthma.
Julia Nichols/getty images
Moodiness, bloating, and… asthma attacks? Many women with asthma (up to 40%) say that their symptoms start getting worse right before their periods, according to a study from the journal Chest. Scientists are still exploring why, but another study, published in Frontiers in Immunology, suggests that shifts in estrogen might cause extra inflammation in the airways.
MORE: 7 Reasons You're Always Tired
OTC pain relievers can trigger attacks.
About 10% of people with asthma find that NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen, cause their asthma to worsen.
“NSAIDs block a certain enzyme, which enhances the production of leukotrienes—molecules that can cause bronchial airway muscles to constrict,” says Rizzo.
Unfortunately, there's no way to predict NSAID sensitivity before it happens, but if you find out you have this issue, you can opt for acetaminophen (Tylenol) the next time a headache or back pain strikes.
Emotional stress can lead to physical symptoms.
You feel panicky and short of breath: Is it anxiety, an asthma attack, or both? Stress is a common asthma trigger, so it's not unusual for sufferers to report more symptoms when they're under pressure.
Stress-related reactions, crying or anxiety, can bring on abnormal breathing patterns that tighten the muscles surrounding the airways and cause asthma symptoms, according to the American Lung Association.
It's not unusual to have asthma along with acid reflux.
Popping Tums or Prilosec a little too often? A whopping 75% of people with asthma also have GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), which occurs when acid from your stomach flows back into your esophagus on a regular basis.
No one really knows why these two conditions tend to overlap, but some asthma medications might be to blame. Meanwhile, GERD can make your asthma more severe—but certain GERD treatments might spell trouble for asthma, too. Talk to your doctor about how to best keep both problems under control.
The National Asthma Council Australia
A guide to healthy habits and lifestyle choices for people with asthma. The key topics include: the dangers of smoking when you have asthma, healthy eating habits and the positive impact exercise can have on your asthma.
Asthma is a disease of the airways,the small tubes which carry air in and the lungs.
When exposed to certain asthma triggers (such as cold air, exercise, pollen, and viruses) the sensitive airways react. They can become red and swollen (inflamed) which causes the airway muscles to tighten and produce excess mucus (phlegm).
This makes the airways narrow and difficult for a person to breathe.
Asthma is a manageable health condition.
Although at the moment there is no cure, with good asthma management and education, people with asthma can lead normal, active lives.
Smoking and asthma is a dangerous combination. People with asthma and those around them shouldn’t smoke.
Healthy eating may help with your asthma. Aim for plenty of fruit, vegetables and fish, choose lean meats and reduced-fat dairy foods, and limit foods high in saturated fat (e.g. fast foods).
Don’t let your asthma stop you being physically active. Consider getting involved in structured exercise training, as people with asthma who participate in this sort of training feel better. If being physically active causes asthma symptoms, tell your doctor so you can get effective treatment.
Being overweight may make asthma harder to manage. Losing just 5 or 10 kilograms could really improve your asthma.
People with asthma should keep their flu shots up to date.
Your mental health can affect your asthma, and asthma may affect your mental health. Talk to your doctor if you have been feeling down, anxious, or aren’t enjoying those things you normally do enjoy.
It is especially important to manage your asthma carefully during pregnancy, because you are breathing for two. Keep taking your asthma medicines as usual, and talk to your doctor as early as possible about your asthma care during pregnancy.
Healthy habits can help you manage your asthma
This brochure provides information about how healthy habits and lifestyle choices can help with your asthma.
Taking care of your asthma also involves:
- taking your preventer medicine regularly if your doctor has prescribed it
- knowing how to use your inhaler (puffer) properly – this could include using a spacer
- following your written asthma action plan
- avoiding things that make your asthma worse (e.g. tobacco smoke, other fumes, or animals that you are allergic to)
- seeing your doctor regularly for asthma checkups
- asking your doctor or pharmacist for information and advice about asthma.
- Everyone with asthma should have their own written asthma action plan and follow it. If you don’t have one, ask your doctor.
Smoking stops your asthma puffers working
Smoking and asthma is a dangerous combination.
Smoking or breathing other people’s smoke:
- damages your lungs
- makes asthma harder to manage
- stops asthma medicines working properly
- increases your risk of asthma attacks or flare-ups
- damages children’s lungs and worsens wheezing and asthma.
Tobacco smoke that clings in your hair and clothing is still poisonous. Smoking home-grown or illegally produced loose tobacco (‘chop-chop’) is as harmful as smoking branded cigarettes. Any type of smoke damages your lungs. People with asthma who quit smoking have healthier lungs within just 6 weeks.
If you are planning a pregnancy, you and your partner should stop smoking before the pregnancy to protect your unborn baby.
Protect kids’ growing lungs by making sure your home and car are smoke-free.
Tips for quitting
Talk to your doctor, pharmacist or asthma and respiratory educator.
Phone Quitline on 13 78 48 (13 QUIT), visit the Commonwealth Government’s anti smoking campaign website: quitnow.gov.au, or visit the Cancer Institute NSW “I can quit” website: icanquit.com.au
Using medicines to help you quit (for example, using nicotine replacement patches or gum) could double your chance of success.
Don’t give in and have ‘just one puff’ — it could set back all your hard work. Learn to manage stress while quitting – Quitline can help you.
Enjoy healthy eating
Healthy eating might help your asthma.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are full of antioxidants, which may improve your lung health and help avoid asthma attacks. Aim for 5 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit every day. Eating fish often may help with your asthma too.
Eating too much saturated fat may prevent your asthma medicines working properly. Limit the amount of convenience foods high in saturated fat, and choose lean meats, skinless chicken and reduced-fat dairy foods.
Milk and other dairy foods don’t cause or worsen asthma symptoms.
Enjoy a physically active lifestyle
Getting more active can make you feel better.
Don’t let your asthma stop you being physically active. Choose an activity you enjoy, as this can help motivate you, and aim for at least 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity every day or most days. Moderately intense physical activity means any activity that makes you breathe noticeably faster and deeper than usual, but does not make you puff and pant.
Asthma symptoms after physical activity are common but treatable, so don’t let this put you off being active. If being physically active causes asthma symptoms, tell your doctor so you can find the treatment that works best for you. This could be as simple as taking extra puffs of your reliever before you warm up.
Asthma symptoms should not stop you from participating in sports or physical activity, whether just for fun or more competitively. Many of our Olympic athletes have asthma.
Consider getting involved in structured exercise training, as people with asthma who participate in this sort of training may feel better.
If you have asthma symptoms when you are physically active or exercise, then there are some things you can do:
- Get as fit as possible. The fitter you are, the more you can exercise before asthma symptoms start.
- Exercise in a place that is warm and humid – avoid cold, dry air if possible.
- Avoid exercising where there are high levels of pollens, dusts, fumes or pollution.
- Try to breathe through your nose (not your mouth) when you exercise. This makes the air warm and moist when it reaches your lungs – cold dry air can make symptoms worse.
Make sure you do a proper warm-up before exercising. If you have asthma symptoms after your warm-up but taking your reliever helps settle them, then you may be able to carry on without getting symptoms again during your session, even if you exercise hard.
After you exercise, do cooling down exercises while breathing through your nose and covering your mouth (especially if the air is cold and dry).
If you participate in competitive sports, make sure you check which asthma medicines you are allowed to take by contacting the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (asada.gov.au) and the World Anti-Doping Authority (wada-ama.org).
Lighten the load on your lungs
Losing just a bit of weight could make you feel better and breathe more easily
Being overweight may make asthma harder to manage, as carrying extra weight puts extra strain on your lungs, and might also worsen asthma.
If you are overweight, losing just 5–10% of your current weight (e.g. 5 or 10 kilograms for a person who weighs 100 kilograms) can really improve your asthma, so you get fewer asthma symptoms and need less medicine.
Breathing problems during sleep are also common among people who are overweight, and can make asthma harder to manage. If you snore or don’t feel refreshed after a night’s sleep, talk to your doctor.
Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease is common in overweight people so see your doctor if you have reflux, heartburn or indigestion.
Avoid the flu
Keep up your flu shots.
People with asthma should keep their flu shots up to date. Ask your doctor which vaccinations are recommended for your age group and health conditions.
Take care of your mental health
If your asthma is getting you down or if you feel anxious, tell your doctor.
Asthma can be harder to manage or cope with if you have depression or another mental health condition. Asthma can also affect your mental health.
Talk to your doctor if you have been feeling down or anxious, or if you haven’t been able to feel interested in things you normally enjoy. You can also contact beyondblue for more information on depression and anxiety, and where to get help (see Further information).
If problems with your asthma are getting you down, talk to your doctor. Your local Asthma Foundation can also provide support, education and information to help you manage your asthma (see Further information).
Learning how to manage your asthma and having regular asthma check-ups with your doctor can make you feel better, especially if you are experiencing depression and anxiety.
Regular exercise can also help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in people with asthma.
Plan a healthy pregnancy with asthma
If you can’t breathe, neither can your baby.
If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, you need to know some asthma facts:
- It is especially important to manage your asthma carefully during pregnancy. Untreated asthma, poorly controlled asthma or serious flare-ups during pregnancy put mothers and babies at risk.
- You should not stop taking your asthma medicines. Talk to your doctor as soon as possible to plan your asthma care during pregnancy.
- Asthma can change during pregnancy. Your doctor may advise you to have asthma check-ups more often while you are pregnant.
- Both parents should stop smoking before the woman becomes pregnant to protect the unborn baby.
Women with asthma who are planning a pregnancy should see their doctor to update their written asthma action plan before the pregnancy.
Before becoming pregnant is also a good time to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about all the medicines you are taking for asthma and any other condition (including any non-prescription medicines and complementary medicines). Ask about which medicines you should keep taking during pregnancy, and whether there are any safer options.
If you are pregnant and have asthma, or have had asthma at any time in your life, make sure your obstetrician and midwife know you have asthma.
If you have asthma symptoms while pregnant, act immediately: take your reliever puffer straight away and contact your doctor if symptoms return. If you can’t breathe normally within a few minutes of taking your reliever puffer during an asthma attack, ask someone to call 000 for an ambulance (nationalasthma.org.au/emergency).
For Health Professionals
Visit the National Asthma Council Australia website to:
Developed by the National Asthma Council Australia in consultation with an expert panel of clinicians. Supported through funding from the Australian Government Department of Health.
National Asthma Council Australia. Asthma & Healthy Living: A guide to healthy habits and lifestyle choices for people with asthma. Melbourne. National Asthma Council Australia, 2013.
Although all care has been taken, this brochure is only a general guide; it is not a substitute for individual medical advice/treatment. The National Asthma Council Australia expressly disclaims all responsibility (including negligence) for any loss, damage or personal injury resulting from reliance on the information contained.
Asthma: 7 Surprising Things You Should Know
Inhale, exhale … inhale, exhale … Breathing is supposed to be easy and automatic.
So when your child starts wheezing, coughing fitfully, or struggling for breath, it gives even the most mellow parent high anxiety.
And if your child is one of the 9 million kids in the United States who has been diagnosed with asthma, you might wish you could watch him 24/7 or be tempted to limit his activities to prevent a flare-up.
Asthma, an inflammatory disease of the airways (the tiny bronchi of the lungs), is the most common chronic condition in children. No one knows exactly why asthma is so prevalent among kids, but there are a few leading theories: Some experts blame rising levels of pollution.
Others point to the fact that kids today are being raised in a more sterile environment than past generations, which leads to their immune system being more easily compromised. Another possible cause is the buildup of greenhouse gases, which are boosting production of pollen.
This is significant because 70 percent of people with asthma also have allergies, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
The current obesity epidemic may be contributing too: Kids who are overweight and have elevated levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation in the body) tend to have more severe asthma, according to a recent study from Duke Children's Hospital, in Durham, North Carolina.
But the higher rate is also because doctors are now recognizing that even very young kids can have asthma.
“In the past, doctors were reluctant to make the diagnosis before age 5 or 6,” says Michael Welch, M.D., clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego.
“Now, it's more common for doctors to diagnose a preschooler, a toddler, or even a baby with asthma.”
In light of how much has changed about the condition in recent years, we've gathered seven surprising key facts that will be news to many parents — even those whose children have been diagnosed.
SURPRISING FACT #1
If your young child is exposed to certain environmental factors, she may develop asthma.
Being near traffic-related pollution is one such factor, found new research from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. And a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that chronic exposure to high levels of ozone and particulate matter can increase the risk of asthma in kids.
Meanwhile, research in Pediatrics has shown that kids who participate in an infant swimming program in a chlorinated indoor pool might experience changes in their airways that can lead to asthma. “Indoor pools present a higher degree of chlorine exposure because the chemical is released into the air,” says Dr.
Welch, editor-in-chief of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Guide to Your Child's Allergies and Asthma. This doesn't mean you need to avoid indoor pools if asthma runs in your family or if your child already has it, says Dr. Welch.
But it's a good idea to steer clear if your child is having a flare-up of asthma, and you may be better off with outdoor pools in general.
One concern you can cross off your list of worries: day care.
In a recent study that tracked kids from toddlerhood until age 15, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, in Charlottesville, found that toddlers who were around more children had a lower chance of developing asthma.
You may not necessarily need to avoid pets, either. New research has shown that when young children grow up with a cat or dog in their home, they are somewhat protected from developing asthma and allergies.
This is partly because the pets expose young children to more germs, and this keeps the immune system from having an allergic reaction to what's in the child's environment.
In fact, a study involving 13,524 children under age 11 found that those who grew up on a farm had up to a 78 percent lower risk of developing asthma, possibly because of all the bacteria they're exposed to from animals and their manure.
Of course, kids who are allergic to cats or dogs can have asthma symptoms triggered by exposure.
SURPRISING FACT #2
Your child could have asthma even if he doesn't wheeze.
Instead of writing off an ongoing or recurring cough as a persistent cold or a sign of allergies, take your child to a doctor. Sometimes kids have what's known as cough-variant asthma, meaning they may have a dry cough when they lie down, when they're active, or when they go out into cold weather.
Recurrent bronchitis can also be a sign of underlying asthma. Coughing is a symptom of asthma, but other things can cause a cough so an accurate diagnosis is key, explains Parents advisor William E. Berger, M.D., an allergy and asthma specialist in Mission Viejo, California, and author of Asthma for Dummies.
To do this in kids ages 5 and up, doctors may administer a test (called spirometry) to measure the volume of air a child can exhale forcefully into a tube.
They'll listen for wheezing, which means the airways are narrowing, or coughing and shortness of breath, which comes from the muscles in the airways tightening and from the lining swelling.
SURPRISING FACT #3
A doctor might call your child's symptoms “reactive airway disease” instead of asthma.
That may be because your child is too young to perform tests that would help diagnose asthma. Or it could be because a child under 5 has mild symptoms or overly sensitive airways but the doctor isn't sure whether it's asthma, and it may be something she could outgrow before adulthood. In other words, reactive airway disease might not lead to asthma.
“The doctor may be trying not to say the word asthma, to avoid alarming parents and because the diagnosis is not certain,” says Marjorie Slankard, M.D., clinical professor of medicine at Columbia University.
“But regardless of what it's called, it means that the airways are overreacting to the environment.
” Even if your doctor refers to your child's condition as reactive airway disease when talking to you, he or she may need to call it “asthma” or “bronchiolitis” on health-insurance forms in order to get reimbursed for treatment.
SURPRISING FACT #4
If your child had eczema as a baby, she is at higher risk for developing asthma later.
“Most parents don't know about the link between eczema and asthma,” says Dr. Welch, “and it's even surprising to many physicians that there's a strong connection between a condition that affects the skin and one that affects the airways.”
In what doctors call the “allergic march,” many kids who have eczema as a baby go on to develop allergies (often food allergies in the toddler years and/or airborne allergies in later years) and then asthma. Eczema often disappears by age 5, though.
“And if you treat hay fever early, especially with allergy shots, it may lessen a child's risk of developing asthma later,” notes Dr. Slankard.
After your child is evaluated with skin tests or blood tests and found to have allergies, you can then minimize her exposure to what she's allergic to, start using medicine, or consider allergy shots (immunotherapy).
SURPRISING FACT #5
Asthma doesn't need to limit your child's activities.
Many parents who have a child with asthma sometimes put restrictions on their kid to try to prevent asthma attacks — and they often feel guilty about it.
Experts stress that the best way to control your child's asthma is to use the right medication strategies at the right time, not to limit what your child does. “That includes exercise, camp, and sports,” says Nathanael Horne, M.D.
, clinical assistant professor of medicine at New York Medical College, in Valhalla.
SURPRISING FACT #6
Even if your child has only mild asthma, you shouldn't let your guard down.
Allergic triggers can lead to serious asthma attacks in children who've previously had only mild asthma, according to new research from Connecticut Children's Medical Center, in Hartford.
Once a child has developed asthma, upper-respiratory viruses and allergies are among the most common triggers of symptoms, which is why some doctors recommend that kids with asthma be tested for allergies by age 5. Exercise, cold air, and exposure to smoke and irritants such as cleaning products can also bring on symptoms of asthma.
So can emotional anxiety, certain medications (such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen), or foods containing sulfites ( packaged baked goods, jams, dried fruit, and canned vegetables). Even low blood levels of vitamin D are associated with lower lung function in children, according to research from National Jewish Health in Denver.
But don't worry that everything under the sun could spark symptoms for your child; some kids are just especially sensitive to certain triggers.
SURPRISING FACT #7
Your child's treatment plan should be reevaluated every three to six months.
“Kids who have persistent asthma need a written asthma action plan,” says Bradley Chipps, M.D., a pediatric pulmonologist and allergist in Sacramento, California.
The plan — which should be reviewed with your child's doctor two to four times a year — ought to include strategies for what to do as soon as symptoms begin as well as how to modify treatment if necessary. Kids ages 6 and up should also use a peak flow meter (which doesn't require a prescription) to help determine how well their asthma is being controlled, Dr.
Horne says. Each morning, before your child takes her medications, record the best of three measurements, and then show the doctor the log so she'll be able to adjust your child's plan accordingly.
Medication Mistakes Even Smart Parents Make
The Mistake: Relying regularly on quick-acting rescue medication to treat your child's asthma
The Solution: If your child needs to use his bronchodilator more than twice a week, he probably needs a different preventative (controller) medication to relieve the inflammation in his airways.
The Mistake: Expecting that your young child can properly breathe in the medicine with an inhaler alone
The Solution: Your child may not be getting enough of the medicine into his airways with each dose. Use a spacer, or a spacer with a mask that has a tight seal against the face, to help him get an adequate dose.
The Mistake: Reducing or even stopping your child's controller medicine because her asthmas has improved
The Solution: To keep your child healthy, stick with the prescribed protocol. If you suspect he could do as well with less medication, talk to your doctor before tinkering with the dosage or frequency.
Which Meds Does Your Child Need?
There are two types: those that ease asthma symptoms quickly by relaxing the smooth muscle in the airways (“rescue” medications including bronchodilators ProAir and Ventolin) and ones used for long-term prevention that reduce inflammation in the airways (“controller” meds including inhaled corticosteroids such as Flovent or Pulmicort). “Kids with persistent symptoms should always be on controller medications,” says Dr. William E. Berger. “If the inflammation that comes with asthma is untreated, airway function can deteriorate.” To assess whether your child's asthma is under control, your doctor should consider how often he is experiencing wheezing, coughing, breathlessness, and nighttime awakenings, how often he needs his rescue meds, how the asthma affects him, and how well his lungs are functioning.
Originally published in the April 2011 issue of Parents magazine.
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