Asthma is a chronic, inflammatory disease of the airways. It affects approximately 22 million Americans. People with asthma experience recurrent episodes of coughing, wheezing, breathlessness and chest tightness. The airways of asthmatics become inflamed and the muscles tighten, making it hard to breathe. Asthma symptoms can occur daily, weekly, monthly or infrequently. The good news is asthma can be controlled with proper diagnosis and treatment.

What Causes Asthma?

Asthma is due to multiple factors. It is complex and not fully understood but thought to be caused by genetic factors and environmental exposures. You have an increased risk of asthma if a family member has asthma. Common environmental triggers include allergies, irritants, respiratory infections, weather changes and exercise.

Common allergens that trigger asthma include pet danders, house dust mites, pollens and molds. Common irritants include tobacco smoke and air pollution. Exercise may be the only trigger in some people with asthma.

How is Asthma Diagnosed?

Asthma is diagnosed based on recurrent symptoms of airflow obstruction or hyperresponsiveness, the obstruction is at least partially reversible and other diagnoses are excluded. An allergist diagnoses asthma based on a detailed medical history, physical exam and tests of airway function such as spirometry. Many people with asthma also have allergies to your doctor may perform allergy testing to help in the diagnosis.

How is Asthma Treated?

While there is no cure for asthma, it can be treated and managed. Treatment includes taking your medications as recommended and avoiding your asthma triggers. Medications are typically divided into controller medications and rescue medications. Controller medications are taken every day to prevent symptoms while rescue medications are used to relieve symptoms during a flare up.

Controller medications include inhaled corticosteroids, combinations of inhaled corticosteroids and long-acting beta-agonists, leukotriene modifiers and in severe asthmatics, oral steroids. Rescue medications (quick-relief) include short acting beta agonists such as albuterol and oral steroids.

Your allergist can help you develop an asthma management plan to help you control your asthma.

Healthcare professionals may recommend specific methods of inhaler use to different patients based on provider preference or patient skills and needs. The three different methods are: