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Adult Asthma

What is asthma?

Asthma causes wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. Asthma is more common in children than adults. People who had asthma in childhood may not have it when they are adults, or it may come back later in life. Others may have asthma for the first time in their adulthood.

You may start coughing or wheezing:

  • When you exercise.

  • When you breathe in something you are allergic to such as dust, pollen, mold or animal dander.

  • When you breathe in something that irritates your lungs like cold air, viruses or tobacco smoke.

When this coughing and wheezing happens, it is called an asthma attack. An asthma attack may:

  • Last a few minutes or up to several days.

  • Be mild, moderate or severe.

  • Happen anywhere, at any time.

  • Be fatal.

How does asthma happen?

If you have asthma, the airways in your lungs are always a little swollen. When you exercise or breathe something you are allergic to or that irritates your lungs, the following symptoms occur:

  • The muscles in the airways start to tighten.

  • The insides of your airways get more swollen.

  • Your airways start to make more mucus than you need.

When this happens, it's harder for air to move in and out of your airways. As a result, you may experience wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath or tightness in the chest.

How do I know if I have asthma?

In order to diagnose asthma, your health care provider will ask you about your breathing problems, conduct a routine checkup and also administer breathing tests. You may be tested before and after taking medicine to find out if the medicine helps.

How is asthma treated?

With asthma treatment, you should be able to live a normal, active life. Patients with asthma will most likely need to take medication to treat the condition and avoid things that make it hard for them to breathe.

There are two main kinds of medicines for asthma: quick relief medicines and long-term control medicines:

  • Quick-relief medicines help open the airways so more air can move in and out. Quick-relief medicines are used to treat asthma attacks and are sometimes called rescue medicines because they act fast. Albuterol is the generic name for one of the quick-relief asthma medicines often used. These medicines are administered through an inhaler.

  • Long-term control medicines help keep the airways from swelling. They are also sometimes called controller medicines. These drugs cannot be used to stop an asthma attack after you have started wheezing. Instead, they are taken every day in order to prevent asthma attacks from occuring. These medicines may be inhaled or taken as a pill.

Your health care provider will tell you what will work best for you. Patients who experience asthma attacks will likely need a quick-relief inhaler. You should always have your inhaler with you, in case you start wheezing. Patients with asthma may also need to take controller medicine every day.

Be sure you know how to use your inhaler the right way.

  • Ask your health care provider to show you how to use the inhaler.

  • Some inhalers you close your lips around, but others you hold away from your mouth.

  • Ask your pharmacist how you can tell when your inhaler is empty.

You may need a peak flow meter to check how well you are breathing.

  • You blow as hard and fast as you can into the peak flow meter to see how well you are breathing.

  • The peak flow meter will help you know when your asthma is getting worse. You will know when you should take more medicine to keep from having a bad asthma attack.

  • Your health care provider will tell you how to use the flow meter to help you take good care of your asthma.

How can I take care of myself?

It's important to:

  • Learn how to tell when you are starting to have an asthma attack.

  • Take your medicines exactly as your health care provider tells you.

  • Keep your checkup appointments as often as your provider recommends.

  • Get a flu shot every October.

Here are some ways you can keep your home free of things that could make it hard to breathe and stay healthy:

Take care of your bedding:

  • Cover your mattress, box springs, and pillows with zippered plastic covers. Wash bedding in hot water and soap once a week. Wash and thoroughly dry pillows once a month.

Having a pet is not a good idea. But if you do have a pet:

  • Have your pet bathed every week. Vacuum your floors every day. Use a HEPA air filter on your home furnace.

Stay away from mold and other things that make it hard for you to breathe.

  • If you use a vaporizer, clean it often to prevent a build-up of mold.

  • Stay indoors when the humidity or pollen count is high.

  • Use air conditioning to cool your home instead of open windows.

  • Do not use attic fans.

  • Stay away from cigarette smoke.

  • Stay away from the fumes or vapors of harsh chemicals, such as bleach.

Tell your health care provider right away:

  • If it is hard for you to breathe comfortably even though you are taking your medicines.

Get emergency help right away:

  • If you are having an asthma attack that is not getting better even though you have used your quick-relief inhaler. This may mean having someone drive you to the emergency room or calling 911.