Asthma overview Tips

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How Your Doctor Tests for Asthma

The CDC estimates that around 25 million people suffer from asthma in the United States. Sufferers who go untreated may experience life threatening symptoms that make it impossible to breathe. If you decide to head to your doctor to ask about asthma, here's what to expect during your visit.

1. Medical history

The doctor will ask about your symptoms, family history, and may try to find out if there are activities or places that trigger symptoms.

2. Physical exam

Asthma impacts a patient's ability to breathe, so the doctor will check your lungs and listen to your chest for signs of respiratory distress.

3. Breath test

The doctor will perform a spirometry test, which will gauge the volume of air your lungs can take in and release. The test will also measure the speed of your exhale.

4. Additional questions

Based upon the results of the lung test and the physical exam, the doctor may recommend a few other tests to confirm or disprove the diagnosis.

  • Allergy test to see if an allergic reaction causes your asthma

  • Active spirometry test where you'll engage in physical activity to measure lung function

  • EKG (electrocardiogram) or chest X-ray to look at your lungs for potential blockages

Everyone who suffers from difficulty breathing won't get an asthma diagnosis. Instead, the doctor may diagnose you with sleep apnea or acid reflux disease or other diseases with symptoms that mimic asthma.

After the Diagnosis

After an asthma diagnosis, the doctor may refer you to a specialist for additional treatment. The doctor may also prescribe asthma medication to help you control your symptoms. Follow-up appointments help the doctor gauge whether medication levels need adjustment.


What To Expect When You Have Asthma, and How To Ease It

Asthma is a condition that affects your ability to breathe properly. If you have asthma, you may experience tightness in your chest, wheezing, feelings of breathlessness, and coughing. There are several things that can trigger an asthma attack, such as tobacco smoke, wood smoke, outdoor air pollution, dust mites and exposure to mold.

Asthma is treated using a multiple step approach. The first step is to reduce or eliminate your exposure to the common asthma triggers mentioned above. You will probably have two different types of medication for asthma treatment. Both medications are commonly prescribed in inhaler form. The first is a daily, long term prescription. This medication is typically a corticosteroid. It reduces inflammation in the airways, reducing symptoms of asthma. You will also have a quick acting medication to relieve symptoms of asthma flare-ups. The quick acting medications work by relaxing the muscles around the airways. For best results, take the quick acting medication as soon as you feel symptoms.

Asthma is considered controlled when you don't have symptoms of asthma more than twice a week, and don't require your relief inhaler more than twice a week, you aren't woken up by asthma symptoms more than twice a month, and you don't have more than one asthma attack a year that requires oral (rather than inhaled) corticosteriods.


How To Recognize If You (Or Someone Else) Has Asthma

Asthma is a condition that affects the lungs. It is most common in children, however adults suffer as well. Although you will need to visit a doctor for a definitive diagnosis, there are several reliable symptoms of asthma that you may notice on your own.

  • Coughing a lot, particularly at night or early in the morning.

  • Breathing problems that get worse after physical activity or that are worse during certain times of the year.

  • A feeling of tightness in your chest.

  • A cold that seems to last longer than 10 days.

Asthma does have a genetic component, so if someone in your family has asthma, there is an increased likelihood that you may have asthma as well.

When you visit a doctor for asthma diagnosis, your doctor will probably have you take a spirometry test. A breathing tube is attached to a computer, and the doctor will have you take a deep breath and exhale into the tube. The computer measures how much air you breath out. Your doctor may also measure how much air you breath out both before and after you take medication.

Once you are diagnosed with asthma, your doctor will work to get your symptoms under control. When your asthma is under control you will sleep better, be better able to participate in physical activities, and have fewer incidences of wheezing and coughing.


What Is Airway Constriction?

Airway constriction is also known as bronchoconstriction. It involves tightening of the airways in the lungs, due to constriction in the surrounding smooth muscles. When airway constriction occurs, the affected individual may experience coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing. Airway constriction most often occurs as a symptom of asthma or emphysema. Individuals who are otherwise healthy may experience airway constriction as a reaction to exercise or allergens.

In individuals with emphysema, the airway constriction occurs because of the excess amount of thick mucus in the airways, which blocks the flow of air. Individuals with emphysema must stop smoking. They will be taught breathing techniques to maximize airflow. Individuals with emphysema can exhaust themselves trying to get enough air through their constricted lungs, and may experience panic attacks due to the feeling of not being able to breathe.

Individuals may also experience exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, which is more commonly called exercised-induced asthma, although it is not the same as asthma. Exercised-induced bronchoconstriction occurs when the airway becomes constricted during exercise. It is believed that this occurs in sensitive individuals when they breath in a large amount of cool, dry air. Exercising when the air is body temperature and has a higher humidity can reduce the incidence of exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. Exercise-induced broncoconstriction can occur in anyone, of any age, however it is more common in individuals who have asthma.

Allergen-induced bronchoconstriction is similar to exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, except the trigger is exposure to an allergen, such as pollen. The body produces an immunological response, which constricts the airways.


The Future of Asthma Research

Asthma is a problem that has bee with us for awhile and we still have much to learn about the condition. Despite the great technological advances have been made in the field of medicine in the past few decades, the percentage of those who suffer from asthma has doubled to the point where it now effects 10 percent of Americans.

Asthma Begins Early On

For the majority of patients asthma has an early onset, usually starting due to events that occur prenatally and immediately postnatal as well. Immune related processes and responses are affected by environmental factors like allergens and infections. This can alter the way the immune system develops and it can alter the airway functioning by leading to inflammation.

Genetic responses are now becoming a significant factor in deciding the response to treatment.

Innate vs. Adoptive Immunity

Research is now beginning to be directed towards determining which factors determine how much of an immunity to airborne allergens and infections is adopted from interacting with the environment and how much of it is innate from the time the child is born.


Research on issues of tolerance to environmental triggering factors can unlock the key to being able to establish the important factors of asthmatic tolerance so as to help direct patients towards building their own resistance to naturally asthma triggering factors in their natural environment.

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Patricia Walters-Fischer