I Cannot Catch My Breath, Could This be Asthma?

Do you have times where it is hard to take a breath? Do you wheeze or cough a lot of the time? When you exercise, do you have a hard time breathing? If so, you may have asthma. Asthma is inflammation and swelling of your airway that causes you to have trouble getting air in and out of your lungs. Asthma is a chronic disease, it just doesn’t go away on its own. Asthma is usually seen with seasonal allergies and skin conditions (eczema). The three go together, so if you or your child has one of the three, you are more susceptible for the other two. Asthma is not contagious.

Common Asthma Symptoms

Asthma is a lung disease. There are many symptoms of asthma and sometimes those symptoms can look like other diseases. If your doctor is having difficulties determining if you have asthma, they may have to run a few tests, which will be discussed, in a later section.

Common asthma symptoms include:

  • Wheezing
  • Cough that is worse at night or in the early morning
  • Cough, wheezing, or difficulty breathing that is worse when you are exercising, crying really hard, near animals, near smoke, near pollen outside, sick with a virus, laughing, near mold, dust, or dust mites, or having your monthly cycle
  • Tightness in your chest that keeps happening
  • Difficulty breathing that occurs or worsens in the middle of the night, often waking you up from a deep sleep
  • Difficulty breathing that continues to occur over and over

Who is at Risk for Asthma?

You are at risk for asthma if your mother, father, or grandparents have asthma. You are also at risk for asthma if you have seasonal allergies (hay fever) or a skin condition called eczema. In kids, boys tend to have asthma more than girls. Young children who wheeze and always have a cold/cough are at higher risk for developing asthma. Asthma is the most common chronic illness in childhood, and affects one out of every ten kids.

What will my Doctor Ask me?

Your doctor will ask you quite a few questions regarding the health of your lungs. They will ask you questions such as:

  • How many times a week does the symptoms occur?
  • How long each episode lasts and what you do to make it go away
  • If you have a family history of asthma, allergies, or eczema
  • If you have symptoms at night, that wake you up
  • If you are only short of breath if you exercise
  • If you have any pets and where they sleep
  • How old your house is
  • If you or any family members smoke

How Do I Treat My Asthma?

Asthma is usually treated with an inhaler. An inhaler is a medication you breathe in as you take a breath of air. There are two types of inhalers. A rescue inhaler is a medication you take a puff of when you are having difficulty breathing, are wheezing, or cannot catch your breath. A daily inhaler is a medication you take every day, whether you are wheezing or not. You need to make sure to take it at the same time each day because it helps prevent you from wheezing, coughing, and not being able to breathe. Your doctor will take your answers to all his/her questions to come up with the best plan for your asthma, so it is very important to answer all the questions truthfully.

Tests

Your doctor may want to perform some tests to see how severe your asthma is. They will perform tests such as spirometry and peak expiration flow. Spirometry measures how much air you can inhale into your lungs, while peak expiratory flow measures how much air you blow out and how fast you do it. Both these tests are useful to the doctor in determining how sick your lungs are. Other testing your doctor may want to perform includes:

  • A chest x-ray to look at your lungs
  • Blood draw such as a complete blood count (CBC) to make sure you do not have an infection
  • An exercise challenge test if your asthma only bothers you when you are physically active or exercising

Treatment

Prevention is key when dealing with asthma. If you can avoid an asthma attack from occurring, it is best for you and your family. Ways to prevent an asthma attack include:

  • Avoid smoke
  • Stay away from foods that contain sulfites such as beer and wine, processed meats, soft drinks, condiments, and pickled foods
  • Avoid allergens such as dust, mold, animal dander, and pollen

How to Keep Allergens Out of your Home

  • Vacuum and wet mop weekly
  • Dust furniture weekly with a damp rag
  • Wash sheets and blankets weekly
  • Do not open the windows in spring or summer; keep the air conditioning on
  • Use an air purifier
  • Do not have pets. If you already have a pet, wash them weekly
  • Use clothes dryer instead of clothing line outside
  • Eliminate any dust mites or cockroaches
  • Reduce humidity in the home to under fifty percent

Treatment with Medication

Your doctor will make an action plan for you regarding your asthma and what to do if you cannot breathe well. Based on the severity of your asthma, they will place you into a step program where you step up if you are still having problems breathing while on daily medication or step down if you haven’t had any problems with your breathing, and you have not had to use your rescue inhaler. The goal of medication therapy is to keep you well controlled, breathing easy, and taking the least amount of medication necessary.

Some examples of medications your doctor may prescribe include:

  • Albuterol
  • Advair
  • Breo
  • Dulera
  • Qvar
  • Symbicort
  • Flovent

What do I Need to Know about Asthma? – Patient Education

  • The role of the medication and why it is important
  • What triggers your asthma and how to control it
  • Do not overuse your albuterol inhaler; it can cause serious heart problems
  • Keep a daily journal of symptoms and peak flow readings
  • How to tell if your asthma is worsening
  • You may need to demonstrate to your doctor how you use your inhaler and other asthma equipment
  • Rinse your mouth out after using your inhaler
  • Use a spacer with the inhaler for children

Emergency Warning Signs/When to Follow Up

If you still cannot breathe after using your inhaler and are having as asthma attack that is worsening, go to the emergency room immediately.

If you notice that your heart beats faster and not evenly after using your inhaler over and over, make an appointment with your doctor right away.

Your doctor will want to see you within twenty-four hours if you have an asthma attack and then again three to five days later to re-evaluate you.

Once your attack has resolved completely, your doctor will want you to follow up with them every one to three months.

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