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Do You Have Asthma? - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Do You Have Asthma?

You have many of the symptoms of asthma. See a doctor about this potentially dangerous condition. Here's more information about asthma and its treatment.

Asthma Overview

Asthma is a chronic lung disorder of enormous public health importance that affects 8 to 12% of the population and disproportionately affects children, minorities, and persons of lower socioeconomic status.

It is the most frequent cause of pediatric emergency room use and hospital admission and is the leading cause of school absences.

The economic costs of asthma are estimated at more than $6 billion/year.

Despite improvements in diagnosis and management, and an increased understanding of the epidemiology, immunology, and biology of the disease, asthma prevalence, morbidity, and mortality have progressively increased over the past 15 years.

Symptoms

The following symptoms can be mild or severe:

- Coughing
- Wheezing (a whistling when you breathe)
- Chest Tightness
- Shortness of Breath
- Faster Breathing
- Itchy or Sore Throat

There are many things a person can do to lessen an asthma attack if properly instructed on how to do so. While experiencing an attack, a person with asthma will go through periods of worsening chest tightness, wheezing, coughing, waking at night, and/or shortness of breath. Any one or more of these symptoms along with a decrease in the lung function as measured by a peak expiratory flow (PEF) rate can indicate an attack. Since acute attacks can be life threatening, it is important that people suffering from an exacerbation recognize their symptoms and properly assess the severity of those symptoms.

Treatment

There are two main kinds of medicine for asthma:
1) Those that help with the long-term-control of asthma.
2) Those that give short-term quick relief from asthma symptoms.
You should work with your doctor to figure which combination of medication is right for you.
Long-Term-Control Medicines
The most effective long-term control medicines are those that reduce swelling in your airways(inflammation). These medicines include inhaled steroids, cromolyn and nedocromil.
Inhaled steroids or steroid tablets or liquids are the strongest long-term-control medicine. The steroids used to treat asthma are NOT the same as the unsafe steroids some athletes take to build muscles.
- Inhaled steroids are used to prevent symptoms and control mild, moderate, and severe symptoms. Inhaled steroids are safe when taken at the recommended dosage. This is because the medicine goes right to your lungs where you need it. This reduces the amount of medicine you need and the chance of any side effects.
Steroid tablets and liquids are used safely for short times to bring asthma under control. They are also used longer term to control the most severe asthma.
-Cromolyn and Nedocromil are often the choice of medicine for children with asthma.
Inhaled long-acting beta2-agonists are used to help control moderate-to-severe asthma and to  prevent nighttime symptoms. Long-acting beta2-agonists do not reduce inflammation. Therefore, patients taking this medicine also need to take inhaled steroids. Inhaled long-acting beta2-agonists should not be used for quick relief of asthma attacks.
Sustained-release theophylline or sustained-release beta2-agonists can help prevent nighttime symptoms.  These medicines are used with inhaled steroids, nedocromil, or cromolyn. Theophylline is sometimes used by itself to treat mild asthma. The dose for theophylline must be checked over time to prevent side effects.
-Zileuton and zafirlukast are a more recent type of long-term-control medicine. Studies so far show that it is used mainly for mild asthma in patients 12 years of age and older.
Quick-Relief Medicines Are Taken Only When Needed
Inhaled quick-relief medicine quickly relaxes and relieves asthma symptoms. But it only helps for about 4 hours. Quick-relief medicine cannot keep symptoms from coming back - only long-term-control medicines can do that.
Your doctor may have you monitor your asthma with a peak flow meter. The meter will help you check how well your asthma is controlled. Peak flow meters are most helpful for people with moderate or severe asthma.

Prevention

An attack can be brought on by a number of irritants, but a few lifestyle changes can minimize their impact.

- Dogs, cats, or other animals - Consider keeping pets outdoors. If this is not possible keep them out of bedrooms. Cover air vents in the bedroom. Remove carpet and upholstered furniture from areas where pets spend their time.

- Colds or flu - Wash your hands frequently and get a flu shot

- Pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds - Be aware of high pollen counts in your area. Try to keep your windown closed. Take your medications if you are affected by seasonal allergies.

- Dust mites or mold - Fully encase mattresses, boxsprings and pillows in special zippered covers to keep out dust mites and some other allergens. Wash the sheets and blankets on your bed each week with hot water. Remove carpets from your bedroom. Reduce indoor humidity to less than 50% with a dehumidifier or central air conditioner.

- Strong odors from perfumes, paints, sprays, or other items - Avoid them wherever possible.

- Smoke from cigarettes or from burning wood, paper, or other items - Do not use a wood-burning stove, kerosene heater, or fireplace if possible. Quit smoking and have other housefold members quit too. Do not allow guests to smoke. Make sure no one smokes at a child's day care center.

- Weather changes or very cold air - Cover your nose and mouth with a scarf on cold or windy days.

- Exercising - Warm up for 6 to 10 minutes before vigorously exercising. Try not to exercise outdoors when pollen counts or air pollution levels are high.

- Aspirin or other medicine - Tell your doctor of all prescription and over-the-counter drugs you are taking.

(Information provided by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health.)

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