5 Things You Should Know About Asthma

By Ernst Lamothe Jr

Sherif El Bayadi is a pulmonologist at St. Joseph’s Health.

The lungs and airways are an important part of the respiratory system that effectively carries and stores oxygen.

A properly functioning respiratory system allows breaths to flow in and out of the lungs and into the airways. This is not always the case for individuals because some suffer from a well-known medical condition called asthma.

One in 13 people in the United States alone has asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“If you are experiencing a breathing problem, make sure you seek help from your primary care provider. Pulmonary function studies may be part of the work up,” said Sherif El Bayadi, a pulmonologist at St. Joseph’s Health.

Here are five asthma facts that are essential for sufferers.

1.  Causes

Asthma appears in children and some adults who develop the medical condition later in life. Each occurrence in children and adults arises with different symptoms. Asthma may begin in childhood and may ease with age.

Common symptoms can include chest tightness, coughing, wheezing, dark circles underneath the eyes and difficulty eating or, for infants, sucking. These symptoms can range from mild to severe.

“The cause of asthma is a hyper reactive airway that is trying to protect the lungs and responds in an exaggerated fashion,” said El Bayadi. “Precipitating factors from the environment cause asthma.”

Individuals can have situational asthma and can experience symptoms with exertion, exercise or during working hours if they have occupational exposures in the workplace. In the younger pediatric population, respiratory infections are a significant cause of asthma triggers, especially viral infections such as viruses of the common cold, flu, RSV or other viruses. Major asthma triggers in individuals with a history of allergies are allergens such as pollen, pet dander, dust mites and others.

2. Air quality

This year we’ve had a number of days that were labeled as poor quality. Smoke from wildfires can contain harmful particles and gases and exposure to these can cause acute respiratory symptoms especially for individuals with asthma.

“The Canadian wildfires caused major air quality concerns, especially among those with asthma. The exposure to the smoke certainly led to worsening symptoms in asthmatics. Avoidance is the best treatment along with usual asthma treatments, depending on how severe the reaction was,” said El Bayadi.

3. Handling asthma

Asthma can be managed with proper medical treatment, lifestyle and education. It is important to be in tune and recognize our symptoms and understand scenarios that can trigger asthma and this includes identifying and avoiding triggers such as allergens, smoke, pollution and respiratory infections. One should take steps to minimize exposure to these.

“If an asthma attack occurs, there should be an action plan that details how the patient and their loved ones should handle the situation,” said El Bayadi. “This may involve taking a quick-relief short acting beta-agonist. If that does not improve the symptoms, and depending on how severe the symptoms are, the next step would be to seek help at urgent care.”

4. Avoid smoking

Smoking is one of the worst habits for asthma and this includes active smoking as well as exposure to secondhand smoke. These can trigger asthma symptoms and make them more severe. Cigarette smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in the U.S. Cigarette smoke irritates the lungs, causing redness, swelling and more mucus. Your lungs have a natural defense to keep dirt and germs out.

“Smoking is certainly the best example of a bad habit in asthmatics. Other exposures that may be difficult to control include environmental things such as grass, pollen and odors in general. These should be avoided, especially if they precipitate asthma. Precipitating factors for asthma in the work environment should also be kept in mind and avoided as much as possible,” he added.

5. Treatment

Good airway and lung health is important for the respiratory system to function properly. If experiencing asthmatic symptoms, it remains imperative to consult your healthcare provider. Those diagnosed with asthma should visit their physicians annually or more to ensure treatment is effective.

Various medications are in place to reduce inflammation and mucus. These include bronchodilators, anti-inflammatory medications, metered-dose inhalers, nebulizers, allergy shots or other asthma inhalers. In addition to medications, doctors work closely with their patients to identify and reduce interactions with triggers. In some cases, doctors may order a spirometry test to measure airflow through lungs, chest X-rays, blood tests or skin tests.