More than 25 million Americans live with asthma, almost a quarter of those being children. There’s no definitive cause, there’s no outgrowing it, and there’s no cure — but with preventative steps and medication, asthma can be treated and controlled. ¹
What is asthma?
Asthma is a lifelong condition that affects the lungs. During an asthma attack, airways become inflamed and swollen and excess mucus is often produced. This often leads to chest tightness, difficulty breathing, coughing, wheezing. ²
There is currently no explanation for why some people get asthma and others don’t; however, these factors do seem to play a role whether a person develops asthma: ³
Genetics. If a parent or sibling has asthma, you are more likely to develop asthma, too.
Allergies. Certain allergies are linked to developing asthma. Some of these allergies include atopic dermatitis and hay fever.
Respiratory infections. Lung inflammation and damage in young children can affect their lung function throughout their lifetime.
Environment. When the immune system is still developing during childhood, encountering certain allergens, irritants, or infections can be linked to asthma onset. In adults, workplace exposure to chemicals or other irritants can play a part in developing asthma. The chemicals used in farming, hairdressing, and manufacturing especially may cause asthma.
Other factors that may increase a person’s chances of developing asthma include: ²
Smoking or being around secondhand smoke
Exposure to pollutants and exhaust fumes
How do I recognize an asthma attack?
For many, asthma is a minor inconvenience – but for others, it can be dangerous and even fatal. That’s why it’s important to know the signs of an asthma attack in yourself and in those around you.
People may experience different symptoms, and some may just have one symptom while others will have several. Some of the more common signs of an asthma attack include:
Shortness of breath
Chest tightness or pain
Wheezing (a whistling sound) when exhaling
Trouble sleeping due to asthma symptoms
Early signs of an asthma attack may differ from the main symptoms and can include:
Increased amounts of mucus
Runny or congested nose
Fatigue or lacking energy
Babies and young children sometimes exhibit different signs of asthma than adults: ⁴
Lack of response to or recognition of parents (particularly for infants)
Nasal flaring (opening the nostrils wide in an effort to breathe)
Exaggerated belly breathing, including the skin getting pulled in around the ribs
Cyanosis (discoloring of the tongue, lips, and fingertips or nail beds)
Bobbing head or floppy body
Some cases of asthma are triggered by certain activities or exposures: ²
Occupational (workplace) asthma
How do I avoid an asthma attack?
Preventing asthma symptoms starts with knowing what triggers them for you. Common triggers include: ²
Reactions to airborne allergens
Illnesses affecting the lungs
Weather (especially cold and dry air)
Experiencing stress or strong emotions
Preservatives added to some foods and drinks
Certain health conditions
Once you know which triggers affect you, you can begin to take steps to avoid those triggers. Make sure that the places you frequent most often don’t have your triggers (if pet dander causes an asthma attack, for instance, don’t live with a dog). An essential preventative measure to take is getting immunized – respiratory diseases like the flu, pneumonia, pertussis (whooping cough), and COVID-19 all affect the lungs, which means that those living with asthma have a higher risk of complications from these illnesses. Getting vaccinated and staying up to date on all your immunizations can lower your risk of experiencing these complications yourself. ⁵
Another important step in controlling your asthma is talking to your doctor about medication – and taking that medication exactly as prescribed. There are two types of asthma medicines, quick-relief and long-term. Quick-relief medication helps you address the symptoms of an oncoming asthma attack, while the long-term medications work to prevent asthma attacks from happening with as much frequency or severity. ⁶
If you have to use the quick-relief medications more and more often, it’s time to talk to your doctor about making adjustments to your regimen.
Clinical trials and continued research may lead to medications that can better control and treat asthma. Guidelines and treatments change, so it’s important to talk with your provider regularly and make an Asthma Action Plan. Asthma attacks could begin at any time and the severity can vary, so having a written document can help you and those around you manage the symptoms. This Asthma Action Plan should be updated annually to include: ¹
Your known triggers and how you avoid them
Information on any asthma medication, including when and how to take each one
Instructions on what to do if you have an attack, and when to call your doctor
Emergency contact information
Asthma isn’t curable, but it is controllable. By sticking to your medication regimen, avoiding triggers as much as possible, and turning to your support network – including our team here at the pharmacy – you can control your asthma and your life.