Asthma and allergies often run in families and may be passed on in genes. That means you have a higher chance of having asthma and allergies if one or both of your parents has them. However, many people have asthma when nobody else in the family does.
To find out if you have asthma, your doctor will ask you how you’ve been feeling and whether you have any regular coughing or difficulty breathing. Your doctor will also listen to your breathing with a stethoscope. You might be asked to take a breathing test called spirometry, which will help with the asthma diagnosis. Your doctor will ask you and your parents if asthma or allergies run in your family and may prescribe asthma medicines to see if you get better with them. If you do get better after a few weeks of taking these medicines, then you likely have asthma. If you had eczema or food allergies as a child, then there’s a higher chance that you will also have asthma.
Why does asthma make it hard for me to breathe sometimes?
Asthma affects the airways (air tubes) inside your lungs. These airways bring oxygen to the rest of your body. If your asthma is getting out of control, these airways can get narrower, making it harder to get air in and out of your lungs. Keep your asthma under control, and your airways will be clear and open, allowing you to breathe easily.
For some people, asthma goes away and never comes back. For others, asthma goes away during childhood or the teen years, only to come back later in adulthood. Unfortunately, some people will always have asthma. Keep your asthma under control and you’ll still be able to what anyone else does, even if asthma stays with you forever.
You take most medicines in pill form, so it might seem strange to take asthma medicine with an inhaler. Asthma medicine often comes in an inhaler because it directs the medicine quickly to where it is needed – your lungs – so you’ll need less medicine as a result.
The best asthma medicine varies from person to person, so your doctor will try to find the medicine or combination of medicines that works for you. If you have regular asthma symptoms, your doctor will probably start with a daily inhaled steroid medicine, since these are usually effective when taken properly. Your doctor will also prescribe a reliever inhaler (usually blue), for when you are having problems breathing or for before exercise.
Asthma medicines are generally very safe. Your doctor will try to find the lowest amount of medicine that keeps your asthma under control. Keeping your lungs healthy and being able to exercise normally is important. Inhaled steroids are the most common medicines for treating asthma long-term. Although people have many misconceptions about inhaled steroids, these medicines have great benefits, are generally safe in prescribed doses, and tend to be the most effective asthma medicine.
If you have a pressurized MDI (metered dose inhaler), the kind that sprays the asthma medicine out, then you can shake the inhaler near your ear to listen and feel for the liquid swishing around. Also, if you see that the puff of mist coming out of your inhaler is not as full as before, then it’s probably time to get a new asthma inhaler. You can also try counting the number of doses you use. This is easier if you take the same number of puffs every day. It’s much harder with inhalers that you only use once in a while. Some Turbuhalers have a counter on them. If your Turbuhaler doesn’t have a counter, a red mark will appear in the window on the side of the device when there are about 20 doses left. If you use a Diskus, it has a built-in counter.
If I’m feeling great, why do I need to keep taking my asthma medicines?
Some asthma medicines only work if you take them every day. These are called “controller” medicines. They keep your lungs healthy, so if you stop taking them, your asthma can slowly start getting out of control, making it hard to breathe.
Do I need to stay away from sports and exercise if I have asthma?
Keep your asthma under control and you should be able to play sports and exercise just like everyone else. Doctors often recommend that people with asthma take their reliever inhaler (usually blue) before playing sports. A good warm-up before and a cool-down after exercising or playing sports also helps. If you do get short of breath during exercise, stop right away and take your asthma reliever inhaler. Only start again if your breathing is back to normal. If your asthma is not under control, you should not start any exercise.
Every winter I get colds that make my asthma worse. How do I stop getting colds?
Pollen is a fine powder that comes from trees and plants. Trees and plants send pollen into the air to reproduce, and the pollen is carried by the wind. Unfortunately this means pollen can be inhaled into noses and lungs, triggering an allergic reaction.
Are there any dogs or cats that are okay for people who have asthma?
There are no non-allergenic dogs or cats. If you are allergic to pets, you shouldn’t have any in your home. Some people believe certain dogs and cats don’t cause allergies because they don’t shed hair. However, it’s not the hair that you are allergic to, it’s the dander (tiny skin particles) or saliva. There is no proof that any dog or cat is safe for people with asthma. If removing your pet from the home is not an option, have your pet washed and groomed regularly and keep it out of your bedroom and off the furniture.
Some people with asthma do benefit from moving to a different climate. For example, a person whose main asthma trigger is dust mites may improve if they move to a high-altitude area such as the Swiss Alps, the Rocky Mountains, or other low-humidity areas like the prairies. Or an outdoor worker with no allergies whose asthma symptoms are triggered mainly by cold air may do better in a warmer climate.
But people with asthma are usually sensitive to many asthma triggers, and the new climate may bring new triggers. For example, a warmer climate may have more air pollution and higher humidity.
To avoid replacing one asthma trigger with a different one when you move, it’s a good idea to spend a trial period of several weeks to months in the new location. Don’t move until you are sure there’s a real improvement in your asthma symptoms.
Consider also that your improvement might be due to leaving a pet at home, being away from the workplace trigger, or having less stress on holiday – nothing to do with climate at all!
Asthma can improve when an offending asthma allergen and/or asthma trigger has been identified and removed from the home or workplace. Sometimes however, asthma gets better for no apparent reason; children, for example, often outgrow their asthma – although it may return in adulthood. Given this, the amount of asthma medication needed for proper asthma control will change over time. However, asthma medication doses should only be adjusted by your doctor.
If you have had no asthma symptoms for a while, your doctor may advise you to reduce the dose of your asthma controller to see if you still have good asthma control. Under your doctor’s supervision, you may even be able to slowly taper off your asthma medications without recurrence of asthma symptoms. However, you should still carry an asthma reliever inhaler, just in case.
For one-third of women, pregnancy has no affect on asthma symptoms; for another third, asthma symptoms improve; and for the remainder they worsen. Fortunately, whatever changes pregnancy brings to asthma can be usually managed with minor adjustments to medications.
If you are pregnant do not stop your asthma medications – poorly controlled asthma can put the baby at risk with low oxygen levels in the blood. If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, consult your doctor.
Once the baby is born, the level of severity of your asthma will probably return to what it was. If you’re breastfeeding, standard asthma medications appear to be safe. Once again, contact your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.
Asthma is sometimes due to heredity; that is, people may inherit the tendency to develop allergies and “twitchy”, or hyper responsive airways. However, most children whose parents have asthma do not develop asthma.
Most important in minimizing your child’s chances of developing asthma are environmental controls, including: not smoking (especially during pregnancy); not allowing smoking in the house when children are small; and avoiding allergens, such as pets and house dust mites.
Are there any asthma breathing exercises that can help my asthma control?
Although there may be many claims about asthma breathing exercises reducing asthma symptoms, or even curing asthma, these claims have not been backed up with adequate evidence.
Exercise in general is great for the health of the lungs and heart. However there are no asthma breathing exercises that have been shown with proper studies to be of benefit for people with asthma.
I have more questions about asthma. Where can I get answers?
There is a lot to learn when you’re diagnosed with asthma. You’ll have to learn what asthma is, how it is treated, and how to use your asthma inhalers. So ask questions each time you visit your doctor or pharmacist. You can also call The Lung Association’s toll-free Lung Health Information Line at 1-888-344-LUNG (5864).