Monitoring Asthma At Home
Some people use a handheld peak flow meter to evaluate their breathing and determine when they need intervention, before their symptoms become severe. People who experience frequent, severe asthma attacks should know how to reach help quickly.
Peak expiratory flow can be measured using a small handheld device called a peak flow meter. This test can be used at home to monitor the severity of asthma. Usually, peak flow rates are lowest between 4 AM and 6 AM and highest at 4 PM. However, more than a 30% difference in rates at these times is considered evidence of moderate to severe asthma. People with moderate to severe asthma, particularly those who need daily treatment to control symptoms, often use a peak flow meter to take measurements and compare them to their personal best to help identify signs of worsening asthma or the onset of an asthma attack.
All people with asthma should have a written treatment action plan that was devised in collaboration with their doctor. Such a plan allows them to take control of their own treatment and has been shown to decrease the number of times people need to seek care for asthma in the emergency department.
Evaluating An Asthma Attack
Because people who are having a severe asthma attack commonly have low blood oxygen levels, doctors may check the level of oxygen by using a sensing monitor on a finger or ear . In severe attacks, doctors also need to measure levels of carbon dioxide in the blood, and this test typically requires obtaining a sample of blood from an artery or, occasionally, a vein. However, carbon dioxide levels can sometimes be monitored in the person’s breath using a sensor placed in front of the nose or mouth.
Doctors may also check lung function, usually with a spirometer or with a peak flow meter. Usually, a chest x-ray is needed only when asthma attacks are severe, in order to rule out other serious conditions .
How Do Healthcare Providers Diagnose Asthma
Your healthcare provider will review your medical history, including information about your parents and siblings. Your provider will also ask you about your symptoms. Your provider will need to know any history of allergies, eczema and other lung diseases.
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What Asthma Treatment Options Are There
You have options to help manage your asthma. Your healthcare provider may prescribe medications to control symptoms. These include:
- Anti-inflammatory medicines: These medicines reduce swelling and mucus production in your airways. They make it easier for air to enter and exit your lungs. Your healthcare provider may prescribe them to take every day to control or prevent your symptoms.
- Bronchodilators: These medicines relax the muscles around your airways. The relaxed muscles let the airways move air. They also let mucus move more easily through the airways. These medicines relieve your symptoms when they happen.
- Biologic therapies for asthma when symptoms persist despite being on proper inhaler therapy.
You can take asthma medicines in several different ways. You may breathe in the medicines using a metered-dose inhaler, nebulizer or other inhaler. Your healthcare provider may prescribe oral medications that you swallow.
Stress Effects On The Body
Stress affects all systems of the body including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems.
Stress effects on the body.
Our bodies are well equipped to handle stress in small doses, but when that stress becomes long-term or chronic, it can have serious effects on your body.
When the body is stressed, muscles tense up. Muscle tension is almost a reflex reaction to stressthe bodys way of guarding against injury and pain.
With sudden onset stress, the muscles tense up all at once, and then release their tension when the stress passes. causes the muscles in the body to be in a more or less constant state of guardedness. When muscles are taut and tense for long periods of time, this may trigger other reactions of the body and even promote stress-related disorders.
For example, both tension-type headache and migraine headache are associated with chronic muscle tension in the area of the shoulders, neck and head. Musculoskeletal pain in the low back and upper extremities has also been linked to stress, especially job stress.
Relaxation techniques and other stress-relieving activities and therapies have been shown to effectively reduce muscle tension, decrease the incidence of certain stress-related disorders, such as headache, and increase a sense of well-being. For those who develop chronic pain conditions, stress-relieving activities have been shown to improve mood and daily function.
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What Are Common Asthma Attack Triggers
An asthma attack happens when someone comes in contact with substances that irritate them. Healthcare providers call these substances triggers. Knowing what triggers your asthma makes it easier to avoid asthma attacks.
For some people, a trigger can bring on an attack right away. Sometimes, an attack may start hours or days later.
Triggers can be different for each person. But some common triggers include:
- Air pollution: Many things outside can cause an asthma attack. Air pollution includes factory emissions, car exhaust, wildfire smoke and more.
- Dust mites: You cant see these bugs, but they are in many homes. If you have a dust mite allergy, they can cause an asthma attack.
- Exercise: For some people, exercising can cause an attack.
- Mold: Damp places can spawn mold. It can cause problems for people with asthma. You dont even have to be allergic to mold to have an attack.
- Pests: Cockroaches, mice and other household pests can cause asthma attacks.
- Pets: Your pets can cause asthma attacks. If youre allergic to pet dander , breathing in the dander can irritate your airways.
- Tobacco smoke: If you or someone in your home smokes, you have a higher risk of developing asthma. The best solution is to quit smoking.
- Strong chemicals or smells.
With asthma, you may not have all of these symptoms. You may have different signs at different times. And symptoms can change between asthma attacks.
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Reactive Airways Dysfunction Syndrome
Reactive airways dysfunction syndrome is a rapid onset and persistent asthma-like disorder that occurs in people with no history of asthma. It is a form of environmental lung disease caused by a single large exposure to nitrogen oxide or volatile organic compounds . People have symptoms similar to those of asthma, including cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Treatment is similar to usual treatment for asthma.
What Is An Asthma Action Plan
Your healthcare provider will work with you to develop an asthma action plan. This plan tells you how and when to use your medicines. It also tells you what to do if your asthma gets worse and when to seek emergency care. Understand the plan and ask your healthcare provider about anything you dont understand.
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Whats An Asthma Attack
When you breathe normally, muscles around your airways are relaxed, letting air move easily. During an asthma attack, three things can happen:
- Bronchospasm: The muscles around the airways constrict . When they tighten, it makes the airways narrow. Air cannot flow freely through constricted airways.
- Inflammation: The airway linings become swollen. Swollen airways dont let as much air in or out of the lungs.
- Mucus production: During the attack, your body creates more mucus. This thick mucus clogs airways.
How Do You Monitor Asthma Symptoms
Monitoring your asthma symptoms is an essential piece of managing the disease. Your healthcare provider may have you use a peak flow meter. This device measures how fast you can blow air out of your lungs. It can help your provider make adjustments to your medication. It also tells you if your symptoms are getting worse.
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What Should I Do If I Have A Severe Asthma Attack
A severe asthma attack needs immediate medical care. The first step is your rescue inhaler. A rescue inhaler uses fast-acting medicines to open up your airways. Its different than your normal maintenance inhaler, which you use every day. You should only use the rescue inhaler in an emergency.
If your rescue inhaler doesnt help or you dont have it with you, go to the emergency department if you have:
- Anxiety or panic.
- Bluish fingernails, bluish lips or gray or whitish lips or gums .
- Chest pain or pressure.
Will My Wheezing Or Coughing Be Worse
Not necessarily. You might be surprised to learn that you may not have more of these than usual during a severe asthma attack. So donât judge how bad your asthma attack is based on how much you wheeze or cough.
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What Types Of Asthma Are There
Healthcare providers identify asthma as intermittent or persistent . Persistent asthma can be mild, moderate or severe. Healthcare providers base asthma severity on how often you have attacks. They also consider how well you can do things during an attack.
Asthma can be:
- Allergic: Some peoples allergies can cause an asthma attack. Molds, pollens and other allergens can cause an attack.
- Non-allergic: Outside factors can cause asthma to flare up. Exercise, stress, illness and weather may cause a flare.
Diagnosing Asthma In Older People
Older people are more likely to have other lung diseases that also cause shortness of breath , so doctors have to determine how much of the person’s breathing difficulty is related to asthma and reversible with the appropriate anti-asthma therapy. Often, in these people diagnosis involves a brief trial of drugs that are used to treat asthma to see whether the person’s condition improves.
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What Causes Asthma
Healthcare providers dont know why some people have asthma while others dont. But certain factors present a higher risk:
- Allergies: Having allergies can raise your risk of developing asthma.
- Environmental factors: Infants can develop asthma after breathing in things that irritate the airways. These substances include allergens, secondhand smoke and some viral infections. They can harm infants and young children whose immune systems havent finished developing.
- Genetics: People with a family history of asthma have a higher risk of developing the disease.
- Respiratory infections: Certain respiratory infections, such as respiratory syncytial virus , can damage young childrens developing lungs.
Who Can Get Asthma
Anyone can develop asthma at any age. People with allergies or people exposed to tobacco smoke and secondhand smoke are more likely to develop asthma.
Statistics show women tend to have asthma more than men, and asthma affects Black Americans more frequently than other races.
When a child develops asthma, healthcare providers call it childhood asthma. If it develops later in life, its adult-onset asthma.
Children do not outgrow asthma. They may have fewer symptoms as they get older, but they could still have an asthma attack. Your childs healthcare provider can help you understand the risks.
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Symptoms Of An Asthma Attack
Asthma attacks occur most often in the early morning hours when the effects of protective drugs wear off and the body is least able to prevent airway narrowing.
An asthma attack may begin suddenly with wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. At other times, an asthma attack may come on slowly with gradually worsening symptoms. In either case, people with asthma usually first notice shortness of breath, coughing, or chest tightness. The attack may be over in minutes, or it may last for hours or days. Itching on the chest or neck may be an early symptom, especially in children. A dry cough at night or while exercising may be the only symptom.
During an asthma attack, shortness of breath may become severe, creating a feeling of severe anxiety. The person instinctively sits upright and leans forward, using the muscles in the neck and chest to help in breathing, but still struggles for air. Sweating is a common reaction to the effort and anxiety. The heart rate usually quickens, and the person may feel a pounding in the chest.
Identifying Asthma Triggers With Allergy Testing
Determining what triggers a persons asthma is often difficult.
Allergy testing is appropriate when there is a suspicion that some avoidable substance is provoking attacks. Skin testing can help identify allergens that may trigger asthma symptoms. However, an allergic response to a skin test does not necessarily mean that the allergen being tested is causing the asthma. The person still has to note whether attacks occur after exposure to this allergen. If doctors suspect a particular allergen, a blood test that measures the level of antibody produced in response to the allergen can be done to determine the degree of the person’s sensitivity to the allergen.
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