What is asthma?


By Janessa Williamson, RN - Health Educator, FCPH



Most people have heard the word asthma and may even have a friend or family member diagnosed with this condition. But what is asthma and how is it treated?

Asthma is a chronic condition. The word chronic means long-term. Asthma affects the airway which carries air in and out of your lungs. In people with asthma, those airways can become inflamed or narrowed and can also produce extra mucus. The exact cause of asthma is unknown. There may be a genetic component and the environment plays a role in being diagnosed with asthma.

Diagnosis

Asthma can be diagnosed in many ways. Your healthcare provider will ask your medical history, perform a physical exam, and may order one of the following tests:

– Lung function test-to see how well your lungs work

– Peak expiratory flow test-to measure how fast you can blow air out

– Fractional exhaled nitric oxide-to measure levels of nitric oxide in your breath where high levels may mean inflammation in the lungs

– Allergy blood or skin test-to check for possible allergens

Risk Factors

What are the risk factors for asthma? Asthma can affect people of all ages. Many times, people are diagnosed in childhood. There are certain factors that may increase risk of asthma. Some of these include:

– Being exposed to chemical irritants or substances at work

– Family history and genetics

– Certain races and ethnicities

– Having often respiratory viruses as a child

– Exposure to second-hand smoke

– Having other conditions or diseases such as obesity or allergies

What is an asthma attack?

An asthma attack is a sudden worsening of asthma symptoms. This can be worsened by certain respiratory viruses. An asthma attack can be life threatening. Some symptoms of asthma include:

– Tightness in the chest with or without pain

– Wheezing

– Shortness of breath

– Coughing

Asthma flare-ups can also be induced by exercise, workplace irritants, and allergies triggered by airborne substances. This can be different from person to person and can also change over time.

Controlling symptoms

While there is no cure for asthma, the symptoms can be controlled with medications. Short-term relief medicines can relieve symptoms during an asthma attack. These medications can include an inhaler and help to open your airways. There are also medications that can help prevent symptoms. These can be taken daily and can help prevent narrowing of the airways and inflammation. These medications may be adjusted until symptoms are adequately controlled.

If you are experiencing a severe attack and short-term medications do not work, call 911 immediately. For non-emergency asthma related questions, contact your healthcare provider.

Janessa Williamson, RN, is the Health Educator at Fayette County Public Health. For more information on programs and services offered at FCPH, visit faycohd.org.

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By Janessa Williamson, RN

Health Educator, FCPH