Do I Have Asthma?

There are an estimated 17 million people living in the United States with self-reported asthma. Asthma is the most common chronic illness among children. If left untreated, it can result in loss of sleep, exercise limitations, absenteeism, emergency room visits and, in a few cases, death.

What Is Asthma?

Asthma is a disease that affects the airways in your lungs. With asthma, the lining of the airways are swollen and inflamed all the time, making them more likely to be bothered by smoke, exercise, stress, or cold air. Most people with asthma also have allergies.

Symptoms of asthma include:

  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath/trouble breathing
  • Chest tightness, pain, and/or pressure
  • Coughing, especially at night or in the morning

What Causes Asthma?

Asthma is caused by inflammation in the airways of the lungs. Asthma has a strong genetic component, so if you have asthma, others in your family may have asthma as well.

Although we don't know exactly why some people develop asthma, we do know that it is important to identify what triggers as asthma attack or exacerbation. Typical triggers include:

  • Allergens (pollen, mold, animal dander, dust mites
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Air pollution
  • Airway infections
  • Physical exertion

It is estimated that 80 percent of children with asthma and more than 50 percent of adults have allergies that trigger their asthma symptoms. “Allergic Asthma” is the most common form of asthma, so identifying your specific triggers is an essential part of developing a management plan.

How Is Asthma Diagnosed?

Asthma can be difficult to diagnose, especially in young children. A board certified allergy and asthma specialist will diagnose asthma after an extensive patient interview, physical exam, and a lung function test. Because of the strong link between asthma and allergies, allergy skin testing is often performed.

How Is Asthma Treated?

Though there is not a cure for asthma, the symptoms can be well controlled through physician recommended medications and trigger avoidance. Allergists manage asthma using long-term controller medications to avoid attacks and quick-relief, or rescue, medicines to treat symptoms once they start. A new class of prescription drugs, called biologics, have recently been introduced to treat persistent, difficult-to-control asthma. Biologics, which target a patients immune system, give allergists yet another tool in helping asthmatics lead a full and active lifestyle.

Since a high percentage of asthma patients suffer from allergies, controlling those allergies is often the first step to controlling asthma.

Is My Asthma Well-Controlled?

The goal for the care of patients with asthma is to ensure proper control, since, when properly managed; asthmatics can lead full, healthy lives. Conversely, poorly controlled asthma leads to significant numbers of hospitalizations, emergency room visits, and doctor appointments. It can also lead to inactivity, which has additional health consequences.

Research studies have shown that patients often over-estimate their level of asthma control. In the Asthma In-Home (AIM) Study, close to 70 percent of the participants overestimated their asthma control. This is another reason why proper monitoring and care by an asthma specialist is crucial.

Allergists often discuss the “Rule of Two’s” to help patients assess their level of control:

  • Are you waking up during the night with asthma symptoms more than two times per month?
  • Are you using your quick-relief/rescue inhaler more than two times per week?
  • Are you refilling your bronchodilator (medication that opens the airways) more than two times per year?

If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, your asthma is not well controlled.

The keys to living an active, healthy life with asthma:

  • Proper diagnosis by an allergy and asthma specialist
  • Identification of your asthma triggers
  • Allergy testing if indicated
  • Asthma management plan
  • Regular follow-up to ensure your management plan is optimized

Additional information on asthma: