Understanding and Managing Asthma

Asthma - AA Girl

May is National Asthma Awareness Month. For some people, asthma is a minor nuisance. However, for others it can be a major problem that interferes with daily activities and can even lead to a life-threatening asthma attack.

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects a person’s airways, which carry air in and out of the lungs. If a person has asthma, the inside walls of their airways become sore and swollen. That makes them very sensitive, and they may react strongly to things that the person is allergic to or finds irritating. When the airways react, they get narrower and the lungs get less air. Pollutants in the air often contribute greatly to environmental problems that result in asthma attacks.

Asthma (bronchial asthma) is the leading chronic disease in children, and its rate is rapidly increasing, especially in African-American children although it also occurs in teenagers and adults. Ten people die each day from asthma even though many asthma-related deaths are preventable with proper treatment and care. Unfortunately, African-American adults in the United States have two times the mortality rate from asthma complications than white adults. This contributes to issues in the environment that cause the concern of certain health professionals and community leaders and residents. This area of health concern is called “Environmental Justice”.

Cultural competence, the ability of providers and organizations to effectively deliver health care services that meet the environmental, social, cultural, and linguistic needs of patients, need special attention to help African-American and other minority communities manage asthma because this condition continues to have a deadly impact on the most vulnerable.

Symptoms of asthma include:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing, especially early in the morning or at night
  • Chest tightness
  • Shortness of breath

However, not all people with asthma have these symptoms. Also, having these symptoms doesn’t always mean that a person has asthma. Asthma is diagnosed based on lung function tests, the medical history, and a physical exam. Allergy tests may also be helpful. Asthma attacks can be stimulated by exposure to irritating substances, also called irritants, or allergens, that cause or trigger an allergic reaction.

Irritants that Often Trigger Asthma Attacks:

  • molds
  • smoke, especially tobacco smoke
  • pollens
  • animal dander
  • dust mites
  • cockroaches and their droppings
  • carpeting
  • sulfites (they’re in some soft drinks and processed foods)

Treatment and control of asthma:

Severe asthma attacks may require emergency care, and they can occasionally be fatal.  Asthma is treated with a variety of medicines that generally fall into two groups: (a) quick-relief medicines to stop immediate asthma symptoms, and (b) routine and long-term control medicines to limit the possibility of developing symptoms.

Story Photo: Cambridge Health Alliance Asthma

Importance of Ongoing or Long-term Treatment and Support Groups:

Long-term asthma treatment is very important for asthma control. That includes finding a doctor who is experienced with this disease, and who you are comfortable with having as a long-term care partner. The doctor can help in identifying the person’s asthma triggers, selecting the appropriate medical treatment for daily anti-inflammatory care, and determining how to best handle acute attacks, which includes the use of a bronchodilator or inhaler for quick relief.

Because children and teens with asthma often present special challenges, for them and their parents, support groups can often be very helpful.

Can Asthma be cured?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for asthma, and many deaths are preventable with proper treatment and care. The rate of allergies is climbing as environmental factors increase.

With all the new findings on alternative medicines and natural remedies, some may wonder if there’s a natural cure for asthma. While some natural therapies may help to manage symptoms of asthma and allergies, other issues may also have an effect. An example is emotional stress, which may need control. For example, natural relaxation remedies like deep abdominal breathing, progressive muscle relaxation.

Even though there’s no natural cure for asthma, symptoms can be treated and controlled with several asthma medications. Approaches that can help in managing asthma are:

  • Keeping  an asthma diary to track symptoms and medication use.
  • Avoiding  asthma triggers or causes of asthma, including outdoor irritants such as smog..
  • Exercising daily for aerobic fitness.
  • Preventing exercise-induced asthma by medicating before exercise.
  • Eating nutritious foods to maximize your immune defenses against viral and bacterial infections.
  • Maintaining a normal weight.
  • Getting plenty of restful sleep.
  • Calling for help, including your health care provider if needed at the first sign of asthma symptoms.
  • Routinely check in with your health care provider for breathing tests to make sure your asthma is managed and your medications are working properly.

People with asthma hold the key to, and can live well with asthma. They need to trust their parent or significant other, health care provider for guidance, and take daily responsibility for their breathing with proven self-care measures, and a sense and feeling of control.


Remember the Health Power motto: Knowledge + Action = Power!

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