Could it be asthma? How to spot the symptoms

Imagine the challenge of trying to breathe through a straw for minutes or hours on end.

That’s how breathing can sometimes feel for people who have asthma—a chronic lung disease that causes the airways to narrow, making it difficult to breathe.

More than 25 million Americans now live with asthma, and that number continues to rise. While the disease affects people of all ages, it most often starts in childhood.

It’s important to recognize the symptoms of asthma and to get medical help for it. People with asthma — both young and old — can lead normal, active lives. The key to doing so is learning how to manage the disease.

What are the signs?

Sometimes asthma symptoms are mild and go away on their own. But at other times, symptoms can get worse and trigger an asthma attack.

Common asthma symptoms include:

• Coughing

• Wheezing

• Chest tightness

• Shortness of breath

Not all people with asthma have the same symptoms. And having these symptoms doesn’t always mean someone has the disease.

If you suspect you have asthma, see your primary care physician. He or she can use your medical history, a physical exam and a simple lung function test to determine whether you have the disease.

What causes asthma?

The cause of someone’s asthma isn’t always known. But a number of things — known as triggers — can bring about or worsen symptoms. Common triggers include:

• Allergens such as dust mites, animal dander, mold, and pollens from trees, grasses and flowers

• Cigarette smoke, air pollution and certain chemicals

• Respiratory infections

• Physical activity

• Stress

If your doctor confirms that you do have asthma, he or she can help you identify your particular triggers and give you advice on how to avoid them.

Treating asthma

There is no cure for asthma. But it can be successfully managed if you learn how to control your asthma, get ongoing care and watch for signs that the disease is getting worse. Asthma is treated with two types of medicines:

• Quick-relief medications, which provide temporary relief from asthma symptoms.

• Long-term control medications, which are taken daily to control airway swelling.

It’s important to follow your doctor’s advice on the proper use of asthma medications.

Most of the time you can treat asthma symptoms on your own. But if you have trouble walking or talking because you are out of breath or if you develop blue lips or fingernails, you need to seek immediate medical attention.

By working with your doctor and learning how to manage your asthma, you can breathe freely and live an active life.

Kettering Health Network is a faith-based, not-for-profit healthcare system that improves quality of life through healthcare and education. The Network has eight hospitals: Grandview, Kettering, Sycamore, Southview, Greene Memorial, Fort Hamilton, Kettering Behavioral Health and Soin. The network's 10 emergency departments and four trauma centers make up one of the largest and most advanced networks of emergency care in the state of Ohio