Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the airways, or bronchial tubes, in the lungs. These airways allow air to come in and out of the lungs. It’s a serious disease that must be diagnosed and treated quickly and thoroughly.
Asthma affects more than 15 million adults and six million children in the United States. If you think you might be suffering from asthma, don’t delay in seeing one of our doctors. We have same-day appointments available to get you immediate relief.
The airways of asthma sufferers are always inflamed to some degree. When something triggers asthma symptoms, the airways become even more swollen; and the muscles around the airways can tighten and restrict airflow even more.
Asthma sufferers may experience episodes of coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, and/or chest tightness. Asthma attacks may be triggered by a variety of factors, including exercise, cold air, allergens, or an infection.
Episodes of breathing difficulty and coughing are caused by air passages swelling and creating thick mucous combined with bronchospasm, a tightening of muscles around the airway. During an episode, only a minimal amount of air can pass in and out of the lungs, stalling the oxygen cycle in the patient’s bloodstream.
For many asthma sufferers, symptoms are often closely related to physical activity. One form of the disease is exercise-induced asthma, where otherwise healthy people may develop symptoms when exercising.
Many people with asthma also suffer from allergies, a condition called allergic asthma. People with a history of asthma or allergies in their families tend to be more prone to developing asthma.
Another type of asthma is occupational asthma, which can be caused by inhaling gases, dust, fumes or other potentially harmful material.
Millions of children and their families are affected by childhood asthma. Most children with asthma typically develop it before the age of five.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for asthma. Once properly diagnosed and a treatment plan is implemented to help manage the condition, many patients’ quality of life improve.
Allergy & Asthma Consultants of Atlanta are specialists in the diagnosis and treatment of asthma. One of our allergists/immunologists can help patients take control of their condition and participate in normal activities again.
Symptoms and severity of asthma vary greatly among sufferers of the disease, but may include:
- Wheezing, a scratchy or whistling sound when breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Chronic cough
- Loss of sleep due to wheezing or coughing
- Chest pain or tightness
Asthma attacks are often the result of exposure to allergens like dust mites, mold, pollen, or pet dander. Smoke, pollution, changes in weather, cold air or pollution may also trigger an attack.
The severity of asthma symptoms may be magnified during times of excess stress, when the patient has a cold, or even during exercise.
Children who suffer from asthma frequently show similar symptoms as adults: wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing. Often, a chronic cough may be the only symptom in some children.
Make an appointment with one of our allergists if your child exhibits one or more of these symptoms:
- Constant coughing made worse by viral infections, or happens while the child is asleep, or sparked by cold air or exercise
- Whistling or wheezing sound when the child exhales
- Rapid breathing or shortness of breath, frequently associated with exercise
- Tightness in the child’s chest
- Excessive fatigue, when the child slows down or stops playing
- In infants, problems feeding or grunting during feeding
- Inability to sleep because of difficulty breathing or coughing
Doctors look for patterns in asthma symptoms to help make a proper diagnosis. These patterns may include:
- Early morning or nighttime attacks
- During or after exercise
- During certain seasons of the year
- After crying or laughing
- When exposed to common triggers for asthma
Our allergists begin by recording a thorough medical history and performing breathing tests to measure how well the patient’s lungs are working.
Spirometry is a test where the patient takes a deep breath, then blows into a sensor to measure the volume of air the lungs can hold, plus the speed of the air during inhaling or exhaling. This test helps determine the severity of asthma and measures how well treatment is working in subsequent visits.
Since many people with asthma may also have underlying allergies, we may also perform allergy testing. When we treat the allergic triggers for a patient’s asthma, we can often help avoid asthma symptoms.
Asthma Treatment & Management
Even though there is currently no cure for asthma, symptoms can be controlled with effective treatment and management. Patients are directed to take their medications as prescribed and are taught to avoid triggers that cause the symptoms. After careful diagnosis, one of our allergists will prescribe the best medications for the severity of the patient’s condition. He’ll also provide specific instructions for using the medications.
Medications to help control symptoms include inhaled corticosteroids (fluticasone (Flovent Diskus, Flovent HFA), budesonide (Pulmicort Flexhaler), mometasone (Asmanex), ciclesonide (Alvesco), flunisolide (Aerobid), beclomethasone (Qvar) and others).
Another type of medication is a ‘combination inhaler’ and contains an inhaled corticosteroid and a long-acting beta-agonist (LABA). LABAs are helpful in opening the airways, but may carry some risks in some patients.
LABAs are almost never prescribed as the only therapy for asthma. We may recommend using them along with inhaled corticosteroids. Common combination medications include fluticasone and salmeterol (Advair Diskus, Advair HFA), budesonide and formoterol (Symbicort), and mometasone and formoterol (Dulera).
Oral medications, called leukotriene modifiers, include montelukast (Singulair), zafirlukast (Accolate) and zileuton (Zyflo, Zyflo CR).
Another type of medication, called “quick relief” or rescue medication, is used to rapidly relax and open airways and relieve symptoms during an asthma attack, or may be taken before exercise if prescribed and include short-acting beta-agonists. These inhaled bronchodilator (brong-koh-DIE-lay-tur) medications include albuterol (ProAir HFA, Ventolin HFA, others), levalbuterol (Xopenex HFA) and pirbuterol (Maxair Autohaler). If you find yourself relying on rescue relief more than twice per week, it’s time to come see us again for an adjustment in your plan.
Acute attacks or severe symptoms may require intravenous or oral corticosteroids. These include prednisone and methylprednisolone. We try to avoid using these medications on a long-term basis because of serious side effects.
Asthma sufferers are at risk of developing complications from respiratory infections such a pneumonia or influenza. That makes it imperative for asthma patients to receive annual vaccinations to reduce the risk.
With proper treatment and an asthma management plan, the physicians at Allergy & Asthma Consultants can minimize symptoms and help our patients enjoy a better qualify of life.