Taking care of asthma: How to spot an attack and how to help

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 25 million Americans suffer from asthma-about one in every 12 people. Of those, roughly 7 million are children. The number of those affected by the disease increases every year, resulting in significant healthcare expenses. In 2007, asthma cost the U.S. about $56 billion in medical costs, missed school and work days, and early deaths.

As we spend more of our free time outdoors in the summer months, asthma can be particularly troublesome. As the air gets hotter and more humid, allergens increase. Whether you or someone you know suffers from asthma, UP Health System Portage wants to make sure you are prepared to fight asthma this summer.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung disease characterized by inflamed airways that cause wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness and coughing. Asthma attacks occur when certain irritants get into the lungs and cause muscles to tighten around already-inflamed airways. Extra mucous is often produced, which further restricts one’s airways during an attack.

“Patients with asthma can struggle with basic activities of daily life,” said Katriina Hopper, MD, geriatric and internal medicine provider at UP Health System Portage. “Exercise can become very difficult. Severe cases of asthma may also lead to death.”

Once diagnosed, asthma is often manageable if patients know what causes their attacks and how to avoid those triggers.

“If you suspect that you or someone you love has asthma, definitely see your primary care doctor or establish with a primary care doctor,” added Hopper. “A physician will diagnose your condition and teach you to use a peak flow meter to determine how well your lungs are working. This will help determine your asthma treatment.”

“If diagnosed with asthma, there are several medications that can control your symptoms. Albuterol rescue inhalers are very effective when an asthma attack does occur. There are also medications that you can take on a daily basis to prevent attacks if asthma is moderate to severe. Those medications are usually taken once or twice a day through an inhaler.”

How to prevent asthma attacks

One way to prevent an asthma attack is to avoid triggers. Air pollution, smoke, allergens and mold are all common irritants that may cause an asthma attack. Patients should also diligently take any prescribed medications, develop a safe physical activity plan with their doctor and keep track of their symptoms.

How to recognize an attack

If a child at camp starts wheezing while playing outside, how do you know if he or she is simply winded or really suffering from an asthma attack? While the main signs are coughing, wheezing, breathlessness and chest tightness, these symptoms could also be the result of a cold, allergies or overexertion. For this reason, it is crucial that asthma sufferers always inform supervisors, colleagues or care providers of the disease so that proper care can be administered if an attack occurs.

What to do when an attack hits

Administer the quick-relief medicine, typically an inhaler, and follow the patient’s Asthma Action Plan, a management plan developed by the patient and his or her healthcare provider. Parents should give any person that provides care to his or her child a copy of his or her Asthma Action Plan. This includes babysitters, sports coaches, school personnel, daycare providers, camp counselors, or anyone else who may be responsible for your child. If an attack happens, they will need to know how to respond. Adult sufferers should also give their Asthma Action Plan to someone who can assist during an attack, such as a co-worker or exercise partner.

If you need help diagnosing or managing your asthma, UP Health System Portage can assist. Call 906-483-1000 to be directed to a physician.

Editor’s note: Calvin Larson is a Marketing Specialist at UP Health System – Portage.