Asthma is a long-term disease of the lungs. It causes your airways to get inflamed and narrow, and it makes it hard to breathe. Severe asthma can cause trouble talking or being active. You might hear your doctor call it a chronic respiratory disease. Some people refer to asthma as “bronchial asthma.”
Asthma is a serious disease that affects about 25 million Americans and causes nearly 1.6 million emergency room visits every year. With treatment, you can live well. Without it, you might have to go to the ER often or stay at the hospital, which can affect your daily life.
What Does Asthma Feel Like?
Asthma is marked by inflammation of the bronchial tubes, with extra sticky secretions inside the tubes. People with asthma have symptoms when the airways tighten, inflame, or fill with mucus.
There are three major signs of asthma:
These problems may cause symptoms such as:
Not every person with asthma has the same symptoms in the same way. You may not have all of these symptoms, or you may have different symptoms at different times. Your symptoms may also vary from one asthma attack to the next, being mild during one and severe during another.
Some people with asthma may go for long periods without having any symptoms. Others might have problems every day. In addition, some people may have asthma only during exercise or with viral infections like colds.
Mild asthma attacks are generally more common. Usually, the airways open up within a few minutes to a few hours. Severe attacks are less common but last longer and require medical help right away. It is important to recognize and treat even mild asthma symptoms to help you prevent severe episodes and keep asthma under better control.
Get medical help right away if you have serious symptoms including:
What Is an Asthma Attack?
An asthma attack is the episode in which bands of muscle around the airways are triggered to tighten. This tightening is called bronchospasm. During the attack, the lining of the airways becomes swollen or inflamed, and the cells lining the airways make more and thicker mucus than normal.
All of these things — bronchospasm, inflammation, and mucus production — cause symptoms such as trouble breathing, wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and trouble with normal daily activities.
Other symptoms of an asthma attack include:
An asthma attack can get worse quickly, so it’s important to treat these symptoms right away.
Without immediate treatment, such as with your asthma inhaler or bronchodilator, it will become harder to breathe. If you use a peak flow meter at this time, the reading will probably be less than 50% of your usual or normal peak flow reading.. Many asthma action plans suggest interventions starting at 80% of normal.
As your lungs continue to tighten, you won’t be able to use the peak flow meter at all. Your lungs will tighten so there is not enough air movement to make wheezing. You need to go to a hospital right away. Unfortunately, some people think that the disappearance of wheezing is a sign of improvement and don’t get emergency care.
Without proper treatment, over time, you may be unable to speak and will get a bluish coloring around your lips. This color change, known as cyanosis, means you have less and less oxygen in your blood. It can cause a loss of consciousness and death.
If you have an asthma attack, follow the “Red Zone” or emergency instructions in your asthma action plan right away. These symptoms happen in life-threatening asthma attacks. You need medical attention right away.
How Is Asthma Classified?
Doctors rank how bad asthma is by its symptoms:
Your asthma may be getting worse if:
Types of Asthma
Asthma Causes and Triggers
When you have asthma, your airways react to things in the world around you. Doctors call these asthma triggers. They might cause symptoms or make them worse. Common asthma triggers include:
Asthma Risk Factors
Things that might make you more likely to have asthma include:
If you think you have asthma, see your doctor. They may refer you to a lung doctor, called a pulmonologist, or a specialist in allergy and immunology.
The doctor will start with a physical exam and ask about your symptoms and medical history.
You’ll have tests to see how well your lungs work, which may include:
Other tests you might get include:
Many asthma treatments can ease your symptoms. Your doctor will work with you to make an asthma action plan that will outline your treatment and medications. They might include:
You can get ipratropium in an inhaler or as a solution for a nebulizer, a device that turns liquid medicine into a mist that you breathe in through a mouthpiece. Tiotropium bromide comes in a dry inhaler, which lets you breathe in the medicine as a dry powder.
You’re more likely to get steroids injected directly into a vein if you’re in the hospital for a bad asthma attack. This will get the medication into your system more quickly.
Tezepelumab-ekko (Tezspire) is a first-in-class medicine indicated for the add-on maintenance treatment of adult and pediatric patients aged 12 years and older. Taken by injection, it targets a specific molicule that causes inflammation in the airways.
Medication will probably be key to getting your asthma under control, but you can do some things at home to help.