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Youngwomenshealth.orgIf you are reading this, you might be someone who has Asthma symptoms can range from mild to severe – from asthma. The more you know about asthma, the better you being a little annoying to seriously affecting how you are can care for yourself. This guide was created to answer feeling. When symptoms are severe, asthma can be your questions about asthma and help you manage What is asthma?
What causes asthma?
Asthma is a chronic condition of the lungs that affects No one knows for sure what causes asthma, but doctors how you feel and breathe. It’s not contagious–you can’t have found that certain things in the environment can get asthma from someone else (like a cold), and you can’t irritate a person’s breathing and cause symptoms. pass it on to anyone else. You can have symptoms that Asthma runs in families, and teens who are overweight occur every day, weekly, every few months or hardly at are more likely to have asthma. Most teens who are all. Some children seem to outgrow it but most teens diagnosed with asthma have allergies that can aggravate with asthma will continue to have symptoms as an adult. Most importantly with the proper treatment, people with asthma can have normal and active lives.
What are triggers?
What exactly happens when I have
Triggers are things in the environment that bring on asthma symptoms?
asthma symptoms or “asthma flare–ups” (sometimes called asthma attacks). Some triggers such as pollen will When you have asthma, the airways in your lungs are only affect people with asthma during certain seasons swollen and inflamed. The airways are the tubes that and not throughout the year. Others may have symptoms carry air in and out of your lungs. When you are exposed only when they are around a cat, for example.
to something that irritates the airways, they start to The following categories and list of “triggers” can cause
narrow, getting smaller with less air able to move in and out. Muscles in and around the swollen airways get tight and more mucous is made. This causes you to have Allergens: things that you are sensitive to that cause a
trouble breathing, with chest tightness, coughing, and type of allergic reaction
sometimes “wheezing”, or a whistling sound when • Animal dander – (which is from skin, fur or feathers What are of the most common symptoms
• Pollen from trees, grasses, weeds, and flowers • Coughing, especially during the night, early morning, when outside in the cold air or while exercising Irritants: (smells and other things that you might inhale
• Wheezing that can be heard when you breathe (breathe in) through your nose, mouth and into
• Shortness of breath or trouble breathing • Cigarette smoke – both smoke from your own • Chest tightness or pain which may feel like someone is • Strong smells – perfumes, make up, cleaning If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your health
products, scented candles, fresh paint, room care provider!
Written by the Center for Young Women's Health Staff 2012Last Updated: 4.4.2012 • Air pollutants–smog, diesel fuel and factory emissions What is exercise–induced asthma (EIA)?
Some people only have asthma symptoms when they exercise or play sports. People with EIA have airways that • Hot temperatures, humidity or “sticky weather” are overly sensitive to sudden changes in temperature Exercise
and humidity, especially when breathing colder, drier air
during aerobic exercise. There are some things you can
• Sports and other physical activities (such as running) do to help control exercise–induced asthma.
• Take a quick–acting prescription inhaler 15 minutes Viral infections
before you exercise (to open up your airway) • Colds and flu or other infections of the nose, throat, • Do warm up exercises for about 10–minutes before lungs, etc. that can cause coughing, sore throat, • Begin exercising slowly and work up to a faster pace– This has been found to prevent asthma symptoms during exercise The thing about triggers is that one type of trigger • If you have symptoms and need your Albuterol more (let’s say dust mites) may cause your friend’s asthma than twice a week, you probably need a medication symptoms, but another kind of trigger (such as dog you can take daily to control your symptoms. This dander) may bring on your symptoms. Triggers can vary daily controller medication may come as another type among people. While taking your medicine and avoiding of inhaler, or as a pill. SEE YOUR DOCTOR OR NURSE your triggers is the best way to control asthma and PRACTITIONER IF YOU NEED YOUR DAILY RESCUE prevent symptoms, you can’t always avoid triggers in the environment. You can, however, be proactive about
certain things such as:
If you are having trouble with your asthma while you are
• If you are allergic to dust, keep your bed and bedroom exercising, try the following:
as dust free as possible. (Carpets, drapes, and stuffed animals collect dust and dust mites – get rid of these • IMMEDIATELY STOP any activity you are doing and stay calm. Sometimes just taking a break helps • Cover your mattress with a protective zippered case to • Get out of the cold temperature and away from dust and dirt particles such as dust from a dry soccer field • Wash your sheets in hot water at least once a week.
• Take your quick–relief/Albuterol inhaler (you should Vacuum and dust your sleeping and living areas at least always carry one with you if you have asthma!) • Slow and calm your breathing – breathing fast can • Don’t buy scented health and beauty products or cleaning products with strong scents.
• Get medical attention if you are not better • Stay in an air conditioned place if the air quality outside is especially bad (on humid/hot days).
If I think I have asthma what should I do?
If you haven’t been to your health care provider yet • WASH YOUR HANDS often – This is the #1 way to lower and you think you might have asthma, call and make an your risk of catching colds or the flu.
appointment as soon as possible. Getting diagnosed and treated quickly will make a big difference in the way Try keeping a symptom diary. Jot down what the weather was like, what you were doing, what time of day it was, How is asthma diagnosed?
• Learn as much as you can about asthma because the more you know, the better you can help care for Only your health care provider can tell if you have asthma. He/she will ask you questions about how you are feeling in general and also specific questions about your breathing. You will be asked about your past health and You may have times when you don’t take care of your your family’s health and about any medications you take asthma as you usually do, such as forgetting to take and if you have any allergies. Your health care provider your medicine or not remembering what triggers will likely give you a physical exam and check your nose, your asthma. Sometimes no matter what you do, listen to your lungs and heart, etc. to make sure you don’t have any other problems. You might be asked to breathe your asthma may bother you when you least expect it into a tube (called a “peak flow meter”) that measures to and you’ll need to take a fast–acting, quick–relief how much air your lungs can hold. If you are diagnosed asthma medicine cal ed Albuterol (that open up your with asthma you may be referred to a specialist.
airways so you can breathe easier). If your Albuterol doesn’t make you feel better within 20 minutes, you should call your health care provider. How is asthma treated?
Asthma is treated by: keeping track of how well your
What kinds of medicines are used to
lungs are working (your health care provider will listen treat asthma?
to your lungs), taking medications as directed, avoiding Some people need to take one or more types of things that make it worse (triggers), controlling things medication daily for their asthma and others may in your environment, and learning how to manage it. not need to take any except when their asthma is Although there is currently no cure for asthma, it can be bothersome. Your health care provider will decide what An important part of asthma care is what you do to broncho–constriction – tightening of the muscles around
help manage it. Control ed asthma means you have your airways, and inflammation or swelling inside
very few or no symptoms and are able to do what you your airways.
• Albuterol – also known as your “rescue” or “quick reliever” medicine will relax the muscles around your Tips to control your asthma symptoms:
airways. There are 3 brands of Albuterol – ProAir®, Proventil®, and Ventolin®. They all have the same • See your health care provider regularly and talk about ' • Controller medications are medicines that you need to • Take medications as prescribed by your health take every day to decrease the swelling in your airways. Controller medications can be inhalers such as • Use a spacer with all inhalant medication Flovent®, Pulmicort®, Asmanex®, QVAR®, Advair®, or Symbicort® or perhaps a pill such as Singulair. Your • Use a “peak flow meter” if you have one health care provider will teach you how and when to • Keep a “symptom diary” that describes time, date, severity (how bad you feel) and exposure activity (what were you doing when the symptoms got worse) • Know your asthma “triggers” and try to avoid or It can be very scary if you have trouble breathing. Having a plan in mind and knowing when to go to the emergency • Pay attention to your asthma so you know when it is • Rest if your asthma is bothering you What are the signs that I need to get help
Will I always have asthma?
• You are feeling like you need to use your fast acting
(Albuterol) inhaler more than once every 4 hours
Studies have shown that asthma usually does not go away, and that the swelling in your lungs actually stays • Your fast acting inhaler (Albuterol) is not working there even when your asthma is not bothering you. This is • You are having trouble talking or walking because you
important to know because you need to pay attention to are out of breath
how you feel and if your breathing changes.
• You are not able to breathe – Call an ambulance and go
It’s true that some people only have asthma as a child to the closest emergency room
and never seem to have symptoms again. Others can have symptoms their whole lives. Finally, there are other What should I do in an emergency?
people who have no symptoms for years and then have it bother them again, many years later. It is important to If you have been using your asthma medications
remember that asthma is a chronic condition, unlike a and they aren’t working and you can’t breathe – call
common cold which is temporary. As a teen with asthma, an ambulance right away! If you don’t feel it’s an
you will probably have it as you grow into adulthood.
“emergency”, contact your health care provider. Remember – many teens have reported feeling like they should have taken an ambulance instead of having a Remember – Asthma is very treatable and you friend or family member take them to the hospital by car, should be able to live a normal, healthy life. In fact, as their breathing got worse during the drive. Whoever is some teens forget to mention they have asthma (or a taking you to the hospital will not know what to do if you history of asthma) to a new health care provider or suddenly can’t breathe – and it CAN happen.
their school nurse. It is very important to remember to tell your health care provider or someone else involved in your health about your asthma and what An asthma action plan is a proactive way to keep your medications you are taking even if you have not asthma under control. It is written with your health care had any symptoms for a long time. Learn the name provider (HCP) and is personalized (just for you) An asthma plan has 3 zones – green, yellow, and red.
and dosage strength of your asthma medications as many medications come in different strengths– it’s • The green zone lists what medications you should take not enough to just identify asthma medications by the color of the inhaler! And, ALWAYS use a spacer • The yellow zone tells you what to do at the first sign of device when using your inhaler – it guarantees the right amount of medicine getting into your lungs • The red zone tells you what to do if your Albuterol isn’t instead of all over your mouth and throat. helping, or if you are very short of breath.
The idea behind having a “plan” is having important information such as: steps you need to take to stay symptom–free, a list of your medicines – the doses and how often you take them, your HCP’s phone number, and Information on Smoking Cessation:
a list of your asthma triggers, so you can have all these facts in one central location. You can make a copy of your http://www.youngwomenshealth.org/howtoquit.html action plan and keep it with you. An asthma action plan also includes simple and clear instructions about how to Support Groups:
identify early symptoms of an “asthma flare–up”, how to • Asthma and Allergy Foundation Educational treat them, and when to go to the emergency room. You should feel comfortable talking with your hcP about your http://www.aafa.org/esg_search.cfm action plan and update it as things change.
Other Helpful Resources:
• Children's Hospital Boston's Asthma Information: http://www.childrenshospital.org/az/Site2174/ mainpageS2174P0.html • Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: http://www.aafa.org • American Lung Association Asthma Information: http://www.lung.org • Asthma and Allergy Network/Mothers of Asthmatics: http://www.aanma.org/ • American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology: http://www.aaaai.org/home.aspx • Just for Teens – The Children's Asthma Education Centre: http://www.teen–asthma.com • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Asthma: http://www.cdc.gov/asthma
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