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What is asthma?

Asthma is a disease that causes the small airways in the lungs to become narrow and inflamed. The swollen airways become overly sensitive to allergens, irritants, and viruses. Asthma can cause shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing in both children and adults.

Some people with asthma have symptoms all the time, while others have infrequent asthma attacks. There is no cure for asthma, but the symptoms can be managed.

What are the symptoms of asthma?

People with asthma experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain or tightness

  • Shortness of breath

  • Wheezing with exhalation (especially in children)

  • Difficulty sleeping due to coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath

  • Attacks of coughing or wheezing (which can be worsened by exercise, respiratory viruses, or inhaled irritants or allergens)

What causes asthma?

The cause of asthma is unknown, although there are several risk factors linked to the disease. These include:

  • Environmental allergens: Being exposed to airborne allergens and irritants, such as cigarette smoke, dust, mold, and chemical fumes – especially as a child or infant– can increase the risk of developing asthma.

  • Allergic conditions: People with allergic conditions like hay fever and eczema are more likely to have asthma.

  • Early life events: Several factors can influence the developing lungs, such as being born prematurely, having a low weight at birth, and catching respiratory viruses.

  • Genetics: You are more likely to have asthma if a close relative also has it.

  • Body weight: Asthma is more likely to occur in people who are overweight or obese.

What is an asthma attack?

In an asthma attack (also called a flare-up or exasperation), the bands of muscle around the airways tighten. The airways become swollen and clogged with thick mucus. This produces acute symptoms that can be life-threatening.

Asthma attack symptoms include:

  • Rapid breathing

  • Coughing that won’t stop

  • Pressure or pain in the chest

  • Difficulty talking

  • Sweaty, pale face

  • Panic or anxiety

  • Tightening of the chest and neck muscles

  • Cyanosis (fingernails or lips look bluish in light-skinned people, greenish-grey in yellow-toned skin, or grey or whitish in dark skin)

Some people find that their asthma is exasperated by certain triggers. These could be airborne allergens like mold, pollen, or pet dander. Similarly, irritants like chemical gases, fumes or dust can cause asthma attacks. Exercise can also be a trigger for some people.

WellNow Allergy offers asthma testing service at all of our locations: 

Call or use our convenient online scheduling to your allergy test today.

Are Asthma and Allergies Related?

In some people, asthma and allergies occur together. When you are exposed to something you’re allergic to, your body creates antibodies and other chemicals to fight it. This causes the allergy symptoms most people are familiar with, such as rashes, hives, runny nose, and sneezing. In allergy-induced asthma or allergic asthma, this antibody reaction also causes asthma symptoms by affecting the lungs and airways.

What is winter asthma?

The winter months are harder for many people with asthma for two reasons. Firstly, people tend to spend more time indoors in the winter. Indoors, there is more exposure to asthma triggers like dust mites, mold, and pet dander. Secondly, the cold and dry air can irritate the lungs, causing mucus production and muscle spasms that can lead to asthma symptoms.

How is asthma diagnosed?

Your physician will perform a physical exam and go over your medical history. They will ask about your symptoms, history of allergies and lung diseases, and if any close relatives have asthma or allergies.

Your healthcare provider may order lung function tests for diagnosis. The most common lung function test used for asthma is spirometry. You will take a deep breath and exhale into a hose attached to a spirometer. The spirometer will record how much air you exhale and how fast you exhale. The result can be used for diagnosis and to monitor the progression of your asthma over time.

Spirometry can also be done before and after taking asthma medications to see how well the medications work for you. Your physician may also request that the test be taken again while exercising, to see if exercise is a trigger.

How is asthma treated?

There is no cure for asthma, although many people who have asthma as a child grow out of it. Asthma can be controlled by being aware of your triggers and using inhaler medications. A spacer device may be used in combination with an inhaler to help the medicine reach the lungs.

You may be prescribed two types of inhalers for your asthma:

  • Controller inhalers are usually taken daily. They contain long-acting medicine that treats and prevents asthma symptoms. Most of them contain a corticosteroid, which treats and prevents inflammation in the air passages, allowing more room for air to flow in and out of the lungs. Inhaled steroids have been proven to prevent asthma symptoms and flares when taken regularly.

  • Rescue inhalers are taken when your symptoms are bothering you or you’re having an asthma attack. These inhalers contain fast-acting medicine that opens the lung’s air passages in just a couple of minutes.

  • Combination inhalers contain both an anti-inflammatory (typical steroid) and a bronchodilator (airway opening rescue type medication). These can be used regularly/preventatively and sometimes as rescue.

Can asthma and allergies be treated together?

If you have allergy-induced asthma, there are additional treatments that can target both the asthma and the allergies:

  • A leukotriene modifier medication called montelukast or Singulair can help reduce the symptoms of asthma and environmental allergies. The pill is taken daily to stop the effects of the chemicals your body creates in response to an allergen.

  • Allergen Immunotherapy is a treatment that involves giving a patient doses of the environmental allergens they are allergic to, so that their body can build up immunity or tolerance over time. There are 2 main types of immunotherapy for environmental allergies, subcutaneous (injections) and sublingual (tablets). Allergy injections can be utilized for any type of environmental allergy including pollen, animals, dust and mold. These are prescribed by an allergist and given in a medical office on a weekly (and eventually monthly) schedule. Sublingual immunotherapy tablets are taken daily at home, though the first dose is given in a medical office. there are 3 FDA approved sublingual immunotherapy tablets currently available in the US. These treat grass, ragweed and dust mite allergies and are available. Allergy immunotherapy is safe and effective for kids and adults!

  • Biologic therapies are injectable medications targeted to allergy antibodies (IgE) or allergy cells (eosinophila) and are very effective for reducing asthma symptoms and flares in patients with severe asthma. These are given either in the doctor’s office, or sometimes at home.

Can WellNow help with asthma diagnosis and treatment?

WellNow Allergy is equipped to help you live an active, healthy life with asthma and allergies. Our experienced allergy providers can provide consultation and order tests to diagnose the cause of your allergy concern. Your WellNow Allergy provider can create a treatment plan for you and prescribe medications for both asthma and allergies. They can also help monitor your asthma’s progression and adjust your treatment plan as needed.

Do you need allergy shots?

At WellNow Allergy, if allergy immunotherapy (allergy shots) are needed, we can order and ship extracts customized for your allergies to the clinic of your choice. Find a WellNow allergy center near you to get started.

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