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Facts about Asthma
Facts about Asthma
What is Asthma?
When You Have Asthma
It is important to:
Know Your Symptoms
Do you feel this way sometimes? Any one of these symptoms may
mean that you have asthma. You can have one or more of these symptoms
or even different ones. Symptoms are clues that let you know that you
are having an asthma attack.
What Starts Your Symptoms?
Usually symptoms get started or "triggered" by something that bothers your lungs. These things are called asthma triggers.
There are many kinds of triggers. They can range from viruses (such as colds) to allergies, to gases and particles in the air.
Given this range, you may find it hard to figure out what starts your asthma attacks. You may even think your attacks "just happen" but this is generally not true. Something usually triggers an attack.
So what's the good news in all of this?
Once you find out your triggers, you can do something to prevent your asthma attacks. This gives you control The result is that when and if you have attacks, there's a good chance that they will be less severe and you won't have as many.
For example, do you get an asthma attack after you've exercised? If you do, you should see a doctor. You can get help. You can still exercise when you have asthma, but you may need to take rest breaks while you exercise. If you know that exercise triggers your asthma, the doctor may tell you to take your asthma medicine before you exercise. This way, you can still have fun exercising without having an asthma attack.
There are other asthma triggers that you can get rid of or avoid. Good examples of these triggers are cold air, dust, feathers or molds.
Cigarette smoking is another trigger that must be avoided. If you smoke, you need to quit. Smoking cigarettes will make your asthma worse, and if you breathe the smoke from someone else's cigarette, you may get an asthma attack. This is true for children, too. In fact, children are especially at risk when they breathe secondhand smoke. Studies show that children of smokers are more likely to suffer asthma attacks. Their asthma gets worse, too.
But you can do something about this. You can protect yourself (and if you're a parent with a child who has asthma, you can protect your child, too) when you know the risks of smoking cigarettes or breathing secondhand smoke. The wisest and healthiest things you can do are to live, work and play in places that are smoke free.
An Asthma Attack
Doctors are not exactly certain how you get asthma. But they do know that once you have it, your lungs react to things that can start an asthma attack. For instance, when you have asthma, you might get an asthma attack when you have a cold (or some other kind of respiratory infection). Or, you might get an attack when you breathe something that bothers your lungs (such as cigarette smoke, dust or feathers).
When this happens, three changes take place in your lungs:
These changes cause the air tubes to narrow. This makes it hard to breathe.
Asthma attacks may start suddenly. Or they may take a long time, even days, to develop. Attacks can be severe, moderate or mild.
Severe Attacks. When these happen, you may become breathless. As you're less and less able to breathe, you may have trouble talking. Your neck muscles may become tight as you breathe. Your lips and fingernails might have a grayish or bluish color. The skin around the ribs of your chest might be sucked in.
In case of a severe asthma attack:
Moderate and Mild Attacks.
These attacks are more common. You may start to feel tight in your chest. You might start coughing or spit up mucus. You may feel restless or have trouble sleeping. You might make a wheezing or whistling sound when you breathe. This can happen as you breathe air in and out of your narrowed air tubes.
What should you do in the case of a moderate or mild asthma attack? Take your asthma medicine. Usually then the air tubes in your lungs open up in minutes. Sometimes, though, it can take several hours. Ask your doctor how long it takes for the medicine to work.
If your medicine does not work in the time it is supposed to - call your doctor.
The Second Wave. In some cases, your asthma attack may seem to ease up. But, changes may take place in your air tubes that cause another attack or second wave. This can be more severe and more dangerous than the first attack.
In the second wave, the air tubes continue to swell. This may happen even when you're not having asthma symptoms. At this time, you might find it harder to breathe.
The second wave may last for days or even weeks after the first attack. Your lungs become more sensitive to other irritants. This can trigger more attacks. During the second wave, you may have to be admitted to a hospital. Doctors need to take care of your asthma and give you medicines that will reduce the swelling in your air tubes and relax the tightened muscles.
In any kind of asthma attack:
Asthma medicines keep the air tubes in your lungs open.
There are two groups of asthma medicines:
These medicines are sold under many brand names. They come in different forms, too They can include sprays, pills, powders, liquids and shots. The doctor chooses the medicine and form that will work best for you.
Let's take a closer look at how these medicines can help you.
First, bronchodilators. These medicines give you relief during an asthma attack. Bronchodilators work to relax the muscles in your air tubes. As this happens, your air tubes open up, making it easier for you to breathe.
Anti-inflammatories, on the other hand, work to keep your air tubes open all of the time so that you don't have an asthma attack in the first place. These medicines reduce the swelling in your air tubes and decrease the mucus. Cromolyn and nedocromil are two examples of anti-inflammatory medicines. Another example is corticosteroids.
When you hear the word "steroid" you might think of the steroids used by athletes. This may worry you if you have heard about problems and side effects athletes have when taking steroids. But corticosteroids are not the steroids used by athletes. Those steroids are called "anabolic steroids."
Remember that corticosteroids are used to help prevent asthma attacks from starting. When you take this medicine in a spray form, the risk of serious side effects is very little, if any at all. The chance of serious side effects increases only when these medicines are taken in a pill or liquid form over a long period. In that case, you need to get regular checkups by a doctor to make sure that the medicine works the best way for you.
Let's talk about side effects for a moment. Every kind of medicine, even aspirin, can have some side effects. But a doctor can help you by finding ways to control side effects. But a doctor can help you by finding ways to control side effects. When it comes to asthma medicines, it is important to check regularly with a doctor to make sure that these medicines are helping you. Sometimes you may have some side effects, such as a sore throat, nervousness, nausea, rapid heartbeat, loss of appetite, or staying awake. Tell a doctor if you feel this way. The doctor may want to change your dose, or try a different asthma medicine. The purpose of asthma medicine is to help you feel better and control your asthma so that you an do what you want to do without asthma getting in your way.
One final note on medicines. There is another kind of treatment that can be important to you if your asthma attacks get started by allergies. This treatment is called hyposensitization therapy or allergy shots. These shots may be helpful to you in preventing your asthma attacks.
On the other hand, the kinds of things that you do are just as important as the kinds of medicines that you take. You can help yourself when you try to avoid or get rid of the things that make you allergic, such as dust, feathers or animal fur. By going this, you really take control and make it possible for your asthma medicines to work successfully.
The Doctor's Role
The doctor's role in asthma care begins with your diagnosis. Once a doctor decides that you have asthma, then you and the doctor can work together to control it. During the diagnosis, a doctor will take your medical history, give you a physical checkup and do some lab tests. These tests may include a chest x-ray, blood and allergy tests, and lung-function tests.
The lung-function tests may involve such things as spirometry and peak flow monitoring. In spirometry, you blow into a device called a spirometer, which measures the air you breathe in and out of your lungs. In peak flow monitoring, you blow into a device, called a peak flow meter, which measures the greatest amount of air that you can exhale. Both spirometry and peak flow monitoring tests can help the doctor decide whether or not you have asthma.
Once the doctor decides that you do, indeed, have asthma, then medical treatment can start. This means that the doctor chooses the best asthma medicines at the right dose for you. The doctor, too, may recommend that you start using a peak flow meter at home. Ask your doctor about this. Peak flow meters are easy to use by yourself every day. These devices can help you to know if your breathing problems are starting even when you don't feel any asthma symptoms. That way, you know when to take your asthma medicine before your symptoms get worse.
After you start taking your asthma medicines, you need to see a doctor on a regular basis - not just when you're having problems. That way the doctor can make certain your medicines are working well.
The doctors needs to know if:
There is no need for you to suffer. Once you talk with a doctor, you may find that a change in your asthma medicines is all that is needed to help you feel better.
So talk regularly to a doctor about your asthma. There are many things that can start asthma and asthma can change, sometimes getting better or worse. You may find that your medicines need to be changed. Or, new medicines may be available that will work even better for you.
There are three things that you need to do to control your asthma. If you've read this far, then you know at least two of them already!
First: See a doctor regularly about your asthma. This is important because your symptoms can change over time. Your triggers can change, too. You may need different medicines to help keep you health. So regular contact with a doctor is an important part of controlling your asthma.
Second: Take your asthma medicines as the doctor has prescribed, even when you feel well. That way, you keep breathing problems from happening.
Third: Get educated about asthma. Find out what triggers it
and what you must do to stay healthy. In fact, everyone in your
family should know about asthma and know what to do when you need
Misconceptions About Asthma
Asthma is shrouded in mystery and misconception. The mystery reflects the ongoing efforts of scientists to better understand this disease. The misconception represents outdated or overly dramatic images of asthma. If you've ever read Lord of the Flies, or seen the movie, you might remember Piggy, the pudgy, bespectacled boy who can't keep up with the pack because of his asthma. Perhaps you've seen a TV program that shows someone with asthma suddenly start to wheeze and then use an inhaler for immediate resolution. Or maybe you've heard that asthma is mostly a childhood disease that many outgrow.
Recent advances have put a new face on asthma. Scientists have shown that this condition is caused by inflammation, the same process that makes a sprained ankle swell. Preventing inflammation by avoiding the things that trigger it and/or by blocking it with drugs can help people with asthma to have relatively mild symptoms and few, if any, full-blown asthma attacks. New drugs that target inflammation some delivered by inhalers, some in pill form can ease asthma symptoms and help to limit the side effects of older drugs, such as heart palpitations and nausea.
Overall, the goal of managing and treating asthma is to make it easier for you to lead a normal, healthy life. Managing your asthma even when you don't have symptoms will help keep you out of the emergency room and minimize long-term damage to your lungs.
Egg Allergy Alert For Tartar Sauce
(Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network) -- The Carriage House Companies, of Fredonia, New York, is recalling 5,500 cases of Food Club brand Tartar Sauce in 8-oz. glass jars due to undeclared eggs. http://www.intelihealth.com/IH/ihtIH?t=8009&c=362472&p=~br,IHC|~st,333|~r,EMIHC245|~b,*|&d=dmtICNNews
Peanut Allergy Alert For Fancy Candy Platter
(Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network) -- J and D Fine Foods of Brooklyn New York, is recalling its 'Fancy Candy Platter' sold in 28-oz. plastic trays, because they may contain undeclared peanuts. http://www.intelihealth.com/IH/ihtIH?t=21291&c=362463&p=~br,IHC|~st,333|~r,EMIHC245|~b,*|&d=dmtICNNews
Inhaled Asthma Drugs More Effective Than Oral Therapy
(British Medical Journal) -- Inhaled glucocorticoid drugs are more effective than the newer anti-leukotriene tablets for adults with mild or moderate asthma, concludes a study in this week's BMJ. http://www.intelihealth.com/IH/ihtIH?t=21291&c=362463&p=~br,IHC|~st,333|~r,EMIHC245|~b,*|&d=dmtICNNews
An Aetna InteliHealth/Harvard Medical School Look At The News -- Treating Asthma
(British Medical Journal) -- Inhaled glucocorticoid drugs are more effective than the newer anti-leukotriene tablets for adults with mild or moderate asthma, concludes a study in this week's BMJ. Read the story and comments from a Harvard physician. http://www.intelihealth.com/IH/ihtIH?t=33000&c=362489&p=~br,IHC|~st,333|~r,EMIHC245|~b,*|&d=dmtICNNews
Asthma Treatment Strategy Shows Promise
Treating Acid Reflux Reduces Asthma
Symptoms And Improves Quality Of Life In Patients With Asthma
U. Of Wisconsin To Study Asthma In
EPA Plans More Asthma Research
Agency Will Track Kids' Diseases For
Tokyo Court Orders Government To Pay
Damages For Asthma Caused By Auto Exhaust
Children With Asthma Are Often Exposed
to Smoke and Pets
Managing Asthma Across The Lifespan
Green Acres Keep Kids Asthma-Free
Asthma In Kids Can Be Controlled
New Research On Gender And The
Development Of Asthma
Asthma May Have Leveled Off In Kids
The Puzzling Red Wine Headache
For some people, a glass of red wine is an invitation to a roaring headache. After a few such episodes, which usually include a feeling of queasiness, those who suffer them may banish wine from their tables for life.
Is Your Home Causing Your Child's Asthma
Asthma Kills Woman Near Colorado Fire
Students Join Scientists In Search Of
California Examines Micro-Pollution
EPA To Relax Utility Pollution Rules
Asthma Isn't Only A Childhood Disease
Update On National Asthma Guidelines
Tomato Pies Recalled Over Milk
Gardening: Plants That Allergy Sufferers
Haze From Canadian Wildfires Lingers Over
Northeast; Health Advisories Issued
Asthma Airway Remodeling Starts In Childhood
And Continues Into Adulthood
Breaking The Mold: Toxic Growth In Homes,
Offices Allegedly Making People Weak, Sick
Too Many Patients Diagnosed With
The Perils Of Pollen: Global Warming May
Make Things Worse
Experimental Therapy Stops Allergic
Reactions In Mice
Population Breathing Bad Air
Panel Pushes Asthma Campaign
Gearing Up For The Allergy Seasons: New
And Old Treatments For Allergies And Asthma
Raising An Asthmatic Child
pH Offers Simple Test For Airway
Report Finds Smog A Killer In L.A. County
Obesity And Smoking Increase Asthma
Pets And Parental Family History Increase The
Risk Of Developing Asthma
New Zealand Researchers To Test Theory That
Rural Environment Provides Resistance To Asthma
Tepid Temperatures Speed Allergy Season
Study Links Single Molecule To
Body's Healing Process
Treating Conditions Associated With Asthma
Reduces Emergency Department Visits
Treating Seasonal Allergies Early Keeps Children Healthy Now, In Future
AAAAI Sponsors Poster Contest For Children
Medications for Children
Allergens And Viruses Act Together To
Home Cat Allergen Concentrations Relate To
U.S. Asthma Rates May Be Declining
Antioxidant may protect against
Altered gene linked to allergic reactions
Asthma, allergies may be triggered by the
Asthmatic children see doctor less when
Losing a few pounds helps obese
Mouse allergy ups asthma risk among
Work may trigger one third of asthma cases
Antibiotics for babies linked to asthma
later in life
American Lung Association and 3M Offer
Free Booklet with Even More Helpful Hints (5/3/99)
In fact, allergy and asthma sufferers may experience even worse symptoms indoors. That's because studies conducted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicate that levels of indoor air pollutants - including allergens - may be two to five times higher, and occasionally more than 100 times higher than outdoor levels. As a result, the EPA has identified indoor air pollution as one of the five most urgent environmental risks to public health.
Fortunately, there are many simple steps that can reduce exposure to pollutants triggering asthma and allergy symptoms at home. In recognition of the American Lung Association's Breathe Easy® Month in May, here are 31 tips from the association's Health House Project - one for each day of the month - to help provide much-needed relief from the sneezing, wheezing and itchy eyes:
1. If you must keep pets, bathe and groom them often and minimize their access to carpeted areas and bedrooms of anyone in the house with allergies and asthma. Pet dander (minute scales of animal skin) is a known allergen.
2. Window coverings are magnets for dust. Use window shades made of plastic, wood or other washable materials for easy cleaning.
3. Mold can be found in the soil of houseplants - so check them often. If mold growth is evident, the plants may need to be re-potted or kept outdoors.
4. Prohibit smoking in the home.
5. Keep humidity levels low with a dehumidifier or air conditioner. Clean both regularly so they don't become pollution sources.
6. Consider using a high efficiency vacuum bag, like a Filtrete vacuum filter bag, or install a central vacuum system if your home has a chronic dust problem.
7. Keep trees and shrubs at least 3 feet away from the perimeter of a home. Tree and shrub roots can give surface water an easy route into a basement, which can lead to mold growth.
8. Consider using a high efficiency air filter, like a Filtrete filter from 3M, in your central heating or air conditioning system.
9. Keep windows closed to avoid outside pollen and other allergens from getting in. Turn your air conditioning on so the air in your home circulates and passes through your air filter.
10. Regularly change furnace and air conditioning filters every two or three months, or as required by the manufacturer.
11. Avoid touching your nose and eyes and transferring pollen to them.
12. Wash bedding weekly in hot water - at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit - to help control dust mites.
13. Control cockroaches and other insects. Dead roaches and cockroach droppings can collect in house dust and are often difficult to remove. Clean your home thoroughly and exterminate as necessary.
14. Clean bathrooms, kitchens and basements regularly to eliminate indoor molds.
15. Place allergen-impermeable covers over mattresses and pillows. Do not use feather pillows and down comforters.
16. Make sure your home's roof and windows are in good shape. Moisture in interior wall spaces can encourage mold growth.
17. Remove water-damaged carpeting. It can lead to mold growth.
18. Refrain from using harsh-smelling products such as perfumes, room deodorizers, cleaning agents, paint and even talcum powder. These can trigger an allergic reaction.
19. Maintain and clean your humidifiers and de-humidifiers on a regular basis, as they can be breeding grounds for mold and bacteria.
20. Wood smoke is a problem for children and adults with asthma and allergies. Avoid wood stoves and fireplaces.
21. If allergic to dust mites, don't sleep or lie down on upholstered (stuffed) furniture.
22. Clean up surface dust as often as possible.
23. Use a damp mop or damp cloth when cleaning. Don't use aerosols or spray cleaners in the bedroom.
24. Remove stuffed animals (unless they can be washed) and anything under the bed.
25. Don't clean or vacuum a room when someone with allergies or asthma is present.
26. Don't permit recycling items such as newspapers, rags, cans and bottles to accumulate in your living space. Store them in a covered area outdoors and recycle frequently.
27. Use a dust mask when vacuuming to reduce exposure to allergens.
28. Keep a diary of when you suffer an allergy and/or asthma attack. This may help to identify triggers - such as cold air, perfume, paint, etc. - which in turn can be avoided.
29. Never store more than a few pieces of firewood indoors. Drying firewood can generate mold spores which can easily contaminate an entire house.
30. Use short nap carpeting whenever possible. Area rugs and carpets that can be removed for frequent cleaning may be the best choice.
31. Use low-toxic cleaning products whenever available. Always follow manufacturers' instructions.
As part of an ongoing educational partnership, 3M and the American Lung Association Health House Project are offering a booklet, "A Guide for Creating a Healthier Home," filled with many more tips to reduce exposure to pollutants and allergens. To obtain a copy free-of-charge, call 1-800-388-3458 or send an e-mail with your name and mailing address to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The American Lung Association has been fighting lung disease for more than 90 years. With the generous support of the public and the help of volunteers, the association has seen many advances against lung disease. Along with its medical section, the American Thoracic Society, the association provides programs of education, community service, advocacy and research. For more information, please call 1-800-LUNG-USA or visit their website at www.lungusa.org.
The Health House Project, a national education project, is raising
the standards for healthier indoor environments through its national
demonstration homes, training programs for consumers and builders,
and educational partnerships and alliances. The Health House Project
is developed and managed by the American Lung Association of
Minnesota, in cooperation with participating local Lung Associations.
For more information, visit their website at www.healthhouse.org.
Who is Vulnerable?
Exercise makes us more vulnerable to health damage from these pollutants. We breathe more air during exercise or strenuous work. We draw air more deeply into the lungs. And when we exercise heavily, we breathe mostly through the mouth, bypassing the body's first line of defense against pollution, the nose.
The connection between air pollution and exercise should concern all of us, especially:
People who already are especially vulnerable to air pollution are even more vulnerable when exercising or engaging in strenuous work. These people include:
How Air Pollution Affects Your
Oxygen is necessary for our muscles to function. In fact, the purpose of exercise training is to improve the body's ability to deliver oxygen. As a result, when we exercise, we may increase our intake of air by as much as ten times our level at rest.
An endurance athlete can process as much as twenty times the normal intake. Mouth breathing during exercise bypasses the nasal passages, the body's natural air filter.
These facts mean that when we exercise in polluted air, we increase our contact with the pollutants, and increase our vulnerability to health damage.
The interaction between air pollution and exercise is so strong that health scientists typically use exercising volunteers in their research. Research has found that air pollution can reduce breathing ability, cause chest pain, coughing, wheezing and other physical irritation.
Air pollution can interfere with the workings of the lungs, heart and other organs. It can aggravate asthma and other chronic lung and heart diseases, can weaken the lung's defenses against infection and may cause lung diseases.
In pregnant women the fetus is especially vulnerable to the
effects of the mother's inhalation of carbon monoxide.
Minimize Your Risk
1. Watch The Calendar
Ozone smog tends to be worst during the May-to-September "smog season." Be especially conscious of smog levels during warm weather. In warm areas, smog can be a problem at any time of the year. Carbon monoxide pollution levels also are related to the weather, as well as to altitude. In the western U.S., the highest carbon monoxide levels are found in the winter months.
2. Watch The Clock
Since sunlight and time are necessary for ozone smog formation, the highest levels of ozone typically occur during the afternoon. Since carbon monoxide is produced primarily by motor vehicles, the highest carbon monoxide levels usually occur during rush hour or during other traffic congestion situations.
3. Watch The News
Pollution levels are often given with weather reports and printed in newspapers. Pollution control officials often can predict when pollution levels will be high.
Charting Air Quality
Local officials use a simple scale to forecast and report on smog levels and other air pollution. Depending on where you live, it might be called Air Quality Index (AQI) or Pollutant Standards Index (PSI).
Current air quality is reported as a percentage of the federal health standard for a pollutant. If the current index is above 100, air pollution exceeds the level considered safe.
At ozone smog levels above 100, children, asthmatics and other sensitive groups should limit strenuous exercise. Even otherwise healthy people should consider limiting vigorous exercise when ozone levels are at or above the health standard.
If the index is above 200, corresponding to an ozone pollution
level of 0.20 parts per million (ppm), the pollution level is judged
unhealthy for everyone. At this level, air pollution is a serious
health concern. Everyone should avoid strenuous outdoor activity, as
respiratory tract irritation can occur.
Children: A Special Risk
Caution For Children
When ozone levels reach a national PSI level of 200 (0.20 parts per million), exercising children outdoors experience respiratory irritation and a decline in lung function. Therefore, they should avoid calisthenics, soccer, tag, running, competitive swimming, basketball, tennis and other strenuous exercise outdoors.
Substitute activities considered safer include recreational swimming, archery, swings and horseback riding.
Should the ozone level reach a national PSI reading of 235 (0.275
ppm), all outdoor sports and games involving physical activity should
be suspended as significant respiratory tract irritation is likely to
occur at this ozone level.
Learn the Do's and Don'ts
Don't do the following:
Frequently Asked Questions
About Allergies and Asthma
Asthma is a respiratory disease characterized by recurrent attacks of breathlessness, wheezing and/or coughing caused by narrowing of the airways leading to the lungs. All levels of severity are serious. Asthma can be deadly if not treated properly. Over 5500 people each year die from asthma.
An allergy is an unusual reaction to normally harmless substances (allergens) that contact the body surfaces. These surfaces include the eyes, nose, lungs, stomach, and skin.
This page describes some of the common symptoms and triggers involved with allergies and asthma. These are brief guidelines. Discuss the treatment of your allergies and asthma with your health-care professional.
If you or someone you know has any of these symptoms, the diagnosis could be asthma:
In addition, these symptoms or conditions are sometimes associated with asthma:
Is there a pattern to the symptoms?:
Symptoms may be triggered by:
Asthma can be controlled!
With a customized Asthma Management Plan (AMP) developed by you and your physician, you and your family can lead an active, healthy life. Your AMP is your action plan giving you power over your symptoms. Every AMP will include specific steps to take for:
If asthma symptoms keep you on a roller coaster of good times and bad, then you need an asthma specialist such as an allergist or pulmonologist to give you a plan for recovery. Recovery can take weeks or months depending on how diligent you are in working with your physician.
Once you have achieved long term control of symptoms, you will need a plan for preventing a relapse.
You will need another plan for stopping an attack as it approaches - at the earliest possible moment. This is the early intervention plan.
Do you think all asthma crises happen on the way to the hospital? Learn how to identify and handle an asthma crisis at home. Your asthma specialist can teach you.
Common Allergy Symptoms
Is there a pattern to the symptoms?
Talk with your physician about your asthma and allergy symptoms
and treatments. Don't suffer in silence. Allergies and asthma can be