If you're among the 25 million Americans living with asthma, you probably already understand how important it is to prevent asthma symptoms. Knowing your triggers, understanding treatment options, and taking control of the disease will minimize the impact symptoms have on your daily life.
Triggers are events that induce symptoms, and you may have a reaction to one or more of them. Symptoms include coughing—especially at night—wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. To prevent symptoms, start by identifying and addressing your triggers. These vary, and you can visit an allergist, a physician who specializes in this sort of treatment, to help determine yours. Here are some common triggers:
- Secondhand smoke exposes your lungs to more than 4,000 substances and many of them are harmful. Children are especially susceptible to harm. The simple solution is to avoid it.
- At its worse, the spring pollen onslaught is especially challenging to avoid. Staying indoors when pollen counts are heavy and hiring someone to do your yard work can help.
- Dust mites are inevitable in any home but they can induce symptoms among children who have never had symptoms. To control them, wash bedding and vacuum weekly, dust often, and choose washable stuffed toys.
- Body parts from dust mites and other pests such as cockroaches contain powerful allergens. Household hygiene is the frontline of defense, so put away all foods, seal cracks, free up clutter, and avoid harmful insecticides.
- Expect to see mold anywhere there is moisture. For some, the spores from the mold fungus trigger asthma symptoms. Maintaining a low level of humidity in your household, drying up wet areas, and using exhaust fans all help.
- From dogs and cats to birds and rodents, Americans love their pets. Unfortunately, people living with asthma pay a price for puppy love. Be aware of this when you're around pets or another animals.
- Other irritants, like wood smoke, chemicals, and pollution, can worsen asthma symptoms. You can be proactive in minimizing the effects of these irritants. Use the exhaust fan when cooking with gas, pay attention to air pollution levels, and ventilate when using paints and chemicals.
While asthma is an incurable disease, symptoms vary widely. Some people only need to avoid certain triggers while others require relief when symptoms develop. Rescue inhalers provide short-term treatment by quickly relaxing muscles associated with the inflamed airway. More severe cases require both continuing medications along with rescue inhalers. These medications, called inhaled corticosteroids, address the chronic cause of flare-ups: inflammation. While effective, they come with potential side effects like thrush (an oral yeast infection), and long-term risks include osteoporosis and cataracts. Cromolyn nebulizer treatments also reduce inflammation and omalizumab injections can reduce the reaction to triggers.
Living With Asthma
Many Americans live with asthma but rarely have symptoms. The best way to prevent asthma symptoms is to take control of the disease. Maintain a record of when you have symptoms, your possible triggers, and what has helped you recover. Invest in a peak flow meter, which is a device that measures how effectively air passes through your lungs, and record the results.
You should also make appointments with your asthma specialist, and be prepared to talk about your findings. Then follow through on treatments and dietary and exercise advice. Develop an asthma action plan that guides you or your loved ones on what to do if symptoms worsen, and when emergency care is needed.
While it is a serious health issue, knowing how to prevent and respond to asthma symptoms can help relegate the disease to a minor role in your life.