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Breathe easier: How to manage asthma symptoms

From the playground to the workplace to the gym, asthma can interfere with daily life, and severe cases can be life-threatening.

But people also live with and manage asthma every day, from active kids and busy working moms to celebrities and elite athletes. (Even with asthma, the rigors of touring and performing can’t hold down Cardi B.) According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 25 million Americans have asthma, including 7 million children.

While there is no cure for asthma, there are effective ways to manage your symptoms and live a full and active life.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic (long-lasting) disease that causes irritation and inflammation in the lungs. It can cause the airways to narrow, swell and produce extra phlegm, which can make breathing a task.

The major symptoms of asthma include:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath (that’s worse at night and in the early morning)
  • Chest tightness

Asthma can appear in adults after the age of 18, or it can begin before age of 5. Asthma is one of the most common causes of long-term illness in children, although some children may outgrow the condition.

There are two types of asthma. The big difference between them is timing:

  • Intermittent asthma is a condition where symptoms occur no more than two days a  week, with nighttime flare-ups occurring no more than twice a month.
  • Persistent asthma. People with persistent asthma have symptoms more than twice a week. This type of asthma is more likely to impact daily activities than intermittent asthma. Persistent asthma can be mild, moderate, or severe.

What is an asthma attack?

When you breathe normally, the muscles around your airways are relaxed. Air moves in and out easily and quietly.

But during an asthma attack, things happen all at once that make it difficult to catch your breath, including:

  • Muscle constriction. The muscles around the airways tighten and make your airways narrow. Air can’t move as easily with less space.
  • Inflammation. The lining of your lungs becomes swollen, restricting air from moving in and out.
  • Mucus. During an asthma attack, the body creates more mucus, which can clog airways.

What causes asthma?

Medical experts aren’t sure why some people get asthma and others don’t. According to the American Lung Association, there are certain factors that may put people at higher risk:

  • Allergies. Allergy sufferers tend to be at higher risk of developing asthma
  • Environmental factors. Contact with allergens, toxins, fumes and second-hand smoke can irritate airways and damage lungs. Exposure can be especially harmful to infants and young children.
  • Genetics. If someone in your family has asthma, you’re at higher risk of developing the disease.
  • Respiratory infections. Certain infections can damage developing lungs. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the most common cause of bronchiolitis in children, and can increase the chance of childhood asthma.

What are common asthma attack triggers?

What brings on an asthma attack can be different for different people. Some of the most common triggers include:

  • Infections like sinusitis, colds and the flu.
  • Allergens such as pollens, mold, pet dander, and dust mites.
  • Irritants like strong odors from perfumes or cleaning solutions.
  • Air pollution.
  • Tobacco smoke.
  • Exercise. For about 80 percent of people with asthma, a heavy workout can cause airways to narrow.
  • Cold air or changes in the weather, such as temperature or humidity.
  • Food allergies.

How are asthma symptoms treated?

Each person’s asthma is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for managing symptoms. Your primary care doctor and health care team will work with you to set up a personalized plan.

In general, there are two prongs to treating and managing asthma symptoms:

  • Quick-relief inhalers (sometimes called rescue inhalers) contain fast-acting medication, such as albuterol, designed to control the symptoms of your asthma attack. Inhalers are used to quickly open airways to make breathing easier.
  • Long-term control medications help you have fewer and milder attacks. Used daily, these preventive medications treat airway inflammation and can reduce or eliminate asthma flare-ups.

What can I do to prevent asthma attacks?

There are steps you can take to keep your asthma under control and prevent an attack:

  • Know your triggers and how to avoid them. An asthma diary is the best way to know what causes flare-ups and how to hold them at bay. Keep a daily record of:
    • Episodes of shortness of breath or wheezing when you exhale.
    • Sleep disturbances that are caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing.
    • Occurrences of chest tightness or pain. How often do you use your inhaler and how many puffs do you take.
    • Disruptions to work, school, or other day-to-day activities are caused by your symptoms.
    • Asthma symptoms that occur during exercise.
    • Changes in the color of mucus you cough up.
    • Hay fever symptoms, such as sneezing and runny nose.
    • Anything else that seems to trigger flare-ups.
  • Get regular checkups with a primary care provider. Asthma can also change over time, so it’s important to work with a primary care provider to make an action plan and adjustments when needed. For example, if you have seasonal allergy triggers, your asthma medication may need to be increased at certain times of the year. If your asthma symptoms are under control, you may be able to reduce medication.
  • Take your medications as prescribed by your doctor. If you’ve been prescribed medications to manage your asthma, make sure you take them as directed. Asthma is a chronic disease. It’s important to manage your symptoms every day, not just when you experience symptoms.
  • Know how to use your inhaler. When you have an asthma attack, quick relief is critical. But an inhaler only works when you know how to use it properly. Ask your primary care provider to show you the right way to use your inhaler and be sure to practice during your visit.
  • Stay active. While exercise can trigger asthma attacks in some people, staying active is the key to good health. Talk with your primary care doctor about an exercise plan that’s right for you.
  • Get your flu shot and other vaccinations. People with asthma and other chronic conditions are more likely to experience complications when they get the flu, COVID or other infections. Talk with your primary care provider about what immunizations  you should have.

How can Indigo help manage my asthma symptoms?

If you have asthma, Indigo is here to help you breathe easier. Our primary care providers can help you prevent and reduce your asthma symptoms and enable you to do more of what you want to do. Best of all, you don’t need to wait. Care is as close as your phone or favorite device.

Our convenient Indigo Online Care offers quick and easy scheduling and check-in, and you can chat directly with one of our Indigo primary care providers when and where it works best for you. Video visits are available 8 am to 8 pm, every day.

During your appointment, a primary care provider will discuss your symptoms and potential triggers, as well as testing and medication options. Together, you’ll create a plan to help manage and prevent your asthma symptoms and ensure you receive the continued care you need to keep your health on track.

And if you need additional care to manage your symptoms, your provider will coordinate your referral to a specialist.

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