Difficulty breathing from asthma can be a scary experience for patients and parents. Left untreated, asthma can progress to hospitalizations, ICU visits, and breathing tubes. Here are the top 9 most important facts to help control and prevent this breathing issue:
Asthma Inhalers Are Difficult to Use. Reduce Side Effects with a Spacer.
Study after study has shown that even the best training on using inhalers (putting the device directly up to your mouth) still produces a lot of the medication hitting the tongue instead of going down to the lungs. This can result in more of the side effects and less of the benefits of an inhaler.
The easiest way to get more inhaled is to use a spacer: a plastic piece that sits between the inhaler and your mouth that allows the medicine to fully aerosolize so it can be pulled into the lungs.
Albuterol is Reactionary. Beat Asthma by Prevention.
The path to treating asthma has many steps, but invariable the first thing any doctor offers is an albuterol inhaler. Albuterol can be an asthma lifesaver, but it’s generally used to treat symptoms that already occurred.
When albuterol is needed multiple times per week, it’s time to talk to your doctor about an inhaled steroid medication that will prevent asthma symptoms from even occurring in the first place. Keep the albuterol on hand for any urgent symptoms that may occur.
Wash Out Your Mouth After a Steroid Inhaler
While inhaled steroids have a much lower chance of side effects compared to swallowed steroids, they fundamentally work by calming down the immune system. While that helps reduce inflammation in the lungs and prevent asthma, it can also slightly weaken the immune system in the mouth and allow for thrush. Be sure to rinse your mouth out after each use. Since these medications are often used twice a day, put them next to your toothbrush, since brushing is a handy way to remove the excess med in your mouth and keep your immune system strong.
Asthma Changes As We Age.
Asthma is fundamentally an issue of airways that are too narrow to let the air out of our lungs fast enough, and wheezing is the result of the air becoming turbulent when it’s pushed out too fast. Think of it like replacing a normal drinking straw with the thin straws used with cocktails: much harder to move fluids. Several things can contribute to that narrowing though, such as being born with smaller airways or having inflammation or mucous during illness. As kids grow, so do their airways. This can often improve asthma symptoms.
All Wheezing Is Not Asthma.
It’s important to realize that other things besides asthma can cause wheezing in children and adults. Any episodes of new wheezing should be examined by a healthcare professional. A single episode of wheezing in an infant doesn’t necessarily mean asthma.
Knowing Triggers: Nights, Allergies, Exercise, Cold Air, Smoke.
We are constantly breathing in the microscopic particles in our environment. Everyone’s asthma and airways react differently to different triggers. These triggers result in spasms or narrowing of our airways. Once they hit a certain threshold when air can no longer move smoothly, turbulent wheezing and asthma symptoms occur.
It’s important for all asthma patients to know their triggers, and if directed by a healthcare provider, to pre-emptively use albuterol to prevent asthma symptoms before they start.
Rescue Inhalers: The Key to Success.
Treating unexpected asthma symptoms requires having direct access to a rescue inhaler. Conversely, they don’t do much good if you can’t get to them. Be sure to have one readily accessible wherever you go.
For kids, this may mean having one at home, one in the car, and one in the backpack for school. Put a piece of red tape around rescue inhalers so they are quickly and easily identified, and so they don’t get confused with everyday controller inhalers. Remember! Steroid inhalers shouldn’t be used to treat asthma symptoms that are suddenly worsening!
The Best Way to Stay Out of the Hospital Is to Have an Asthma Action Plan.
Getting access to the right medications is only the first step. Often, asthma worsens when doctors aren’t easily available. The good news is that patients can often change their medications on their own, as specifically directed by their healthcare provider in advance, known as an Asthma Action Plan. These types of plans result in a controlled increase of inhaler use to prevent progression of the asthma that may land you in the hospital. These plans are lifesaving and recommended by many professional medical societies. Talk to your healthcare provider about creating this action plan.
If You’re Still Having Trouble Breathing, Get Medical Help.
It’s important not to suffer at home if you have followed the recommendations of your healthcare provider and are still having difficulty breathing. Be sure to take note of when and where you are having these difficulties – the more details you can provide to your healthcare provider, the better!