Take Steps to Easier Breathing

Asthma Care

If you’re one of the 25 million Americans who struggles with asthma symptoms including trouble breathing, wheezing, and tightness in your chest, our respiratory care team can help you breathe easier and avoid having an asthma attack. We offer asthma management strategies including medication, bronchial thermoplasty, and education for children and adults with asthma.

Appropriate asthma management and treatment techniques depend on an accurate diagnosis of what type of asthma you have. Both children and adults experience different types of asthma including:

  • Allergic asthma
  • Non-allergic asthma
  • Exercise-induced asthma
  • Adult-onset asthma
  • Occupational asthma

Asthma Management

There are two types of physicians who will help you—or your child—manage your asthma and prevent asthma attacks. A pulmonologist will help diagnose your specific type of asthma and develop a treatment plan, while your primary care physician, such as a family medicine doctor or pediatrician, will oversee your day-to-day care.

Based on your diagnosis and your asthma triggers, you’ll work with you physician to develop an asthma action plan that is specific to you. Your plan will include what types of medication to take and how often, when to use your inhaler, triggers you need to avoid, and what to do in case of an asthma attack or severe asthma episode.

There are two types of asthma medicines: long-term control and quick-relief. To effectively manage your asthma, it’s important to understand what each of them does and how to use them correctly according to your asthma plan.

Long-term control medicines are often taken daily to control and prevent asthma symptoms before they happen. Long-term control medicines include inhaled corticosteroids, which prevent airway swelling and reduce mucus in the lungs. They are the most effective long-term control medicines available. Some people also take inhaled long-acting beta agonists, which work by relaxing the smooth muscles around the airways. This type of medication should only be taken in combination with an inhaled corticosteroid. If these medications don’t work on your asthma, your doctor may prescribe biologics. These medications target specific cells or proteins in your body to prevent your airways from swelling. They are given by injection or infusion every few weeks. Other less common medications include oral corticosteroids, leukotriene modifiers, cromolyn sodium, and theophylline.

Quick-relief medicines are used at the onset of asthma symptoms to relax the smooth muscles constricting your airways to make breathing easier. These medications are typically inhaled. Most people with asthma have an inhaler with short-acting beta agonists, which immediately relax the smooth muscles. Your doctor also may prescribe a slower-acting inhaled medication called anticholinergics or a combination of these two drugs. More than half of people who use inhalers use them incorrectly. Ask your physician or nurse to demonstrate proper technique and check your technique. You also might benefit from using a holding chamber or spacer device with your inhaler or a breath-actuated inhaler. You can talk with your primary care provider or a respiratory therapist about these options.

If your asthma symptoms are improving, don’t stop taking your medication. That just means it’s working! But do talk with your physician if you don’t think it’s helping. If you find you are using your inhaler two or more days a week, that might mean that your long-term control medications need to be adjusted.

The Lung Center at Penn Highlands also offers a procedure called bronchial thermoplasty to treat adults with severe asthma who are unable to control their symptoms with medication. In a series of three minimally invasive procedures, heat is used to reduce smooth muscle in your airways so that they constrict less. Read more.

Other Ways to Manage Asthma Symptoms

In addition to following your asthma action plan, take these steps to prevent both short-term and long-term complications of asthma.

Identify your asthma triggers and develop a plan to avoid them. Although medications are effective at controlling your asthma symptoms, you also have to avoid your asthma triggers as much as possible. Common asthma triggers include:

  • Pollen
  • Dust mites and mold in bedding materials
  • Pets/animal dander
  • Exercising, particularly in cold weather
  • Air pollution
  • Smoke
  • Strong smells like perfumes or bleach
  • Respiratory illnesses or the flu

Get an annual flu and pneumonia vaccine. Both of these conditions can trigger asthma attacks.

Use a peak flow meter. By monitoring and recording your breathing using a peak flow meter, you can learn to recognize when your symptoms are worsening. The earlier you can treat an attack, the less severe it is likely to be. If your peak flow measurements decrease, follow a plan to take prescribed medications, avoid triggers and activity, and get medical help if needed.

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