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Living Well with Asthma

posted Feb 3, 2011, 8:09 AM by Caitlin Paul   [ updated Feb 3, 2011, 9:32 AM ]

Do you have asthma? If so, you are not alone. About 20 million adults and 9 million children in the United States have asthma! Asthma is a chronic (long-lasting) condition. It can not be cured, but you can control your asthma if you take your medicine as ordered and avoid the things that cause your asthma to flare up. These things are called triggers. Before we talk about how to control your asthma, let’s review the causes of asthma.

Asthma is caused by inflammation in the airways or breathing tubes. During an asthma flare-up, the muscles surrounding

the airways get tight and squeeze the airways. The tissues in the airways swell up, and make extra mucus. These 3 events narrow the airways which means that air can’t pass in and out as well as it normally does. Many, but not all people with asthma have wheezing sounds in their chests during an asthma attack. Wheezing is caused by the sound of air trying to pass through the narrowed airways.

Many things can trigger an asthma attack, but triggers are not the same for every person. It is important to figure out what triggers an asthma flare-up for you so that you can avoid these triggers.

Common asthma triggers include:

  • Animals (pet hair or dander)
  • Dust (allergy to dust mites)
  • Feathers
  • Cockroaches
  • Changes in weather (most often cold weather)
  • Chemicals in the air (fumes, aerosol sprays)
  • Chemicals in food (additives, dyes)
  • Exercise
  • Mold
  • Pollen
  • Respiratory infections, such as the common cold
  • Strong emotions (stress, being upset, getting very excited)
  • Tobacco smoke or smoke from fires
  • Some medicines like aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs such as Motrin, Advil or ibuprofen) can trigger asthma.

Symptoms: (can have some or all of these)

  • Cough with or without sputum (phlegm) production
  • Night time cough
  • Shortness of breath that gets worse with exercise or activity
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Chest pain

Emergency symptoms:

  • Bluish color to the lips or nailbeds
  • Decreased level of alertness such as severe drowsiness or confusion, during an asthma attack
  • Extreme difficulty breathing
  • Pulling in of the skin between the ribs when breathing
  • Rapid pulse
  • Severe anxiety due to shortness of breath
  • Sweating

Most people with asthma have symptoms off and on. They also have periods of time when they feel just fine. If your asthma only bothers you once in awhile, it’s easy to forget to take your medicine or avoid triggers. Even though you may not be feeling like you have asthma, the condition is still there.

Asthma attacks can last from a few minutes to several days. Some asthma attacks are mild; others may be severe. Always remember that asthma is a serious condition. Anyone with asthma can have a flare-up that is so serious that the person can die from lack of oxygen. Even if you have never had a severe flare-up, one can happen at any time. That’s why it’s important to follow your asthma action plan.

Everyone who has asthma should have an asthma action plan. This a written plan that you develop with your doctor or nurse practitioner that tells you what to do for your asthma if you feel well, have mild symptoms or severe symptoms. It is designed to help you take control of your asthma so it doesn't get in the way of going to school, playing sports, working out, going to parties, or doing whatever you want to do. Your asthma action plan will give you clear instructions so you can:

  • avoid triggers that make your asthma worse
  • notice early symptoms of a flare-up and treat them
  • take the right steps to deal with an asthma flare-up
  • know when to go to the emergency room


At the School Based Health Center at Proviso East, our doctors and nurse practitioners will work with you to develop an asthma action plan. When you come in for a visit, you will be asked to fill out an Asthma Control Test or ACT. This is a questionnaire that will help us see how well controlled your asthma is and if any changes in the asthma action plan are needed.

So, take control of your situation! Make an appointment at the School Based Health Center and learn how you can live well with asthma.