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Health Information For Teens
Asthma (pronounced: AZ-muh) is a lung condition that makes it hard to breathe. Lots of people have asthma, from young kids to the elderly.
No one knows exactly why some people develop asthma. Experts think it might be a combination of environmental factors and genes.
People with asthma may have a parent or other close relative with asthma. Those who are overweight may be more likely to have it.
Asthma isn’t contagious. You can’t catch it from someone who has it.
With normal breathing, air flows in through the nose or mouth and then into the windpipe (trachea). From there, it passes through the airways (bronchial tubes), into the lungs, and finally back out again.
In people with asthma, the airways are
(swollen) and produce lots of thick mucus. Inflamed airways are also very sensitive, and things like dust or smoke can make the muscles around them tighten up. All these things can narrow the airways and make it harder for a person to breathe.
An asthma flare-up (or “attack”) is when a person’s symptoms get worse. During a flare-up, a person might have:
Things that bring on a flare-up are called triggers. These can vary, but common triggers include:
Other things can trigger asthma flare-ups too: Some girls find their asthma gets worse just before their periods. Even laughing, crying, and yelling can sometimes make the airways tighten.
Many people with asthma compare a flare-up to the feeling of trying to breathe through a straw — it feels very hard to get air in and out of their lungs.
An asthma flare-up can last for several hours (or longer if a person doesn’t use asthma medicine). When a flare-up is over, the person usually feels better. Between flare-ups, breathing can seem completely normal, although some people may cough or feel as if they are always short of breath.
To diagnose asthma, a doctor will do a physical exam and ask about the person’s medical history, including whether anyone else in the family has asthma.
The doctor might do tests like spirometry (pronounced: spye-RAH-muh-tree) or peak flow meter tests. These involve blowing into devices that can measure how well the lungs are working. Allergy tests or exercise tests can tell doctors if asthma is brought on by allergens or physical activity. Doctors may use X-rays to rule out other problems.
There’s no cure for asthma, but it can be managed to prevent flare-ups. Asthma treatment involves two important components: avoiding triggers and taking medicine.
People with asthma need to avoid the things that might cause flare-ups. Of course, some triggers can’t be completely avoided (like catching a cold). But exposure to other triggers, such as pet dander, can be controlled.
Keep your environment clear of potential allergens, like dust or secondhand smoke. Don’t smoke (or quit if you do). Pay attention to the weather and stay indoors or limit your exercise to indoor activities when you know weather or air pollution may affect you.
Doctors help people with exercise-induced asthma manage physical activity, not avoid it. Exercise can help people stay healthier overall. Doctors can help people find treatments that allow them to them participate in their sports — in fact, many professional athletes have asthma.
Most asthma medicines are breathed directly into the lungs (inhaled), but some are pills or liquids. There two types of medicines are:
Long-term control medicines can take days or even weeks to start working. Their regular use should lessen the need for quick-relief medicines, but they need to be taken every day or they can’t do their job.
Some people with asthma only need quick-relief medicine; others need both kinds of medicine to keep their asthma in check.
Asthma care can seem overwhelming, especially at first. That’s why people with asthma need to work closely with a doctor to create an asthma action plan that’s right for them. The written plan will say when to take medicines, what triggers to avoid, when to go to the ER, and more. Refer to your plan often.
The best way to manage asthma is to prevent flare-ups. Do that by following your asthma action plan and avoiding triggers, taking any medicines your doctor prescribes as directed, and getting a flu shot each year.
Your doctor also may ask you to keep track of your asthma symptoms in an asthma diary. This can help the doctor track how you feel after taking medicines. Your doctor might also ask you to use a peak flow meter as a way to monitor your asthma.
Caring for asthma takes a bit of work. But if you follow your asthma action plan, take your medicines properly, recognize your symptoms and triggers, and check in with your doctor regularly, you can do anything that people without asthma do.
Visit our Asthma Center for information and advice on managing and living with asthma.
Visit our center on managing your medical care for advice on how to get involved in taking charge of your health and choosing the right health care providers.
If you suffer from a chronic illness, you know it can be anything but fun. But you can become better informed and more involved in your care. Here are tips to help you deal.
Find out what can make your asthma worse, and what to do about it.
Here’s steps to remove or minimize triggers at home that cause asthma flare-ups.
Asthma flare-ups, or attacks, can be handled, but it’s even better if you can prevent them from happening. Find out how to deal with flare-ups.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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