What is Asthma?

Asthma is a condition that affects your lungs and makes it hard for you to breathe. It's like having a tiny, invisible bully in your airways that causes wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing. This happens because the tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs get inflamed and narrow, often set off by things like dust, smoke, cold air, or even exercise.

I’m wheezing - does that mean I have asthma?

It's important to remember that just because you wheeze, it doesn't automatically mean you have asthma. Wheezing can be a symptom of various conditions, some of which are quite different from asthma. Similarly, if you're experiencing shortness of breath and you don't have an asthma diagnosis, it's crucial to take it seriously. Shortness of breath can be a sign of many different health issues, some of which require immediate medical attention. If you find yourself struggling to breathe and you're not sure why, it's best to seek care in an emergency room. Healthcare professionals can provide the right diagnosis and treatment, whether it's asthma or something else. Remember, when it comes to breathing difficulties, it's always better to be safe and get checked out by a doctor.

Asthma Triggers

When you have asthma, it's really important to know what makes your symptoms worse. These are called triggers, and they can be different for everyone. Some people might react to pet dander, while others have issues with pollen or strong scents. Staying away from these triggers as much as possible can help keep your asthma under control.

Should I get allergy testing?

Allergy testing plays a significant role for many people with asthma, especially if your symptoms seem to be triggered by environmental factors. This testing helps to identify specific allergens, like pollen, dust mites, pet dander, or certain foods, that might be causing or worsening your asthma symptoms. Knowing exactly what you're allergic to can be a game-changer in managing your asthma. It allows you and your healthcare provider to create a more targeted approach to avoid these triggers and could lead to specific treatments, such as allergy shots (immunotherapy), that can reduce the severity of allergic reactions and asthma symptoms over time. Essentially, allergy testing is a crucial step in fine-tuning your asthma management plan, making it more effective and personalized to your needs.

What are the types of asthma medications?

There are mainly two types: controllers and relievers. Controllers are like your daily vitamins for asthma – you take them every day to keep your asthma in check. They're usually inhaled corticosteroids, like fluticasone or budesonide, or can be combination inhalers, which calm down the inflammation in your airways.

Combination inhalers are a key tool in asthma management, especially for those who need more than a basic preventer. These inhalers contain two types of medication. One is usually a long-acting bronchodilator, which helps to keep the airways open and makes breathing easier by relaxing the muscles in the airways. The other is a corticosteroid, which reduces inflammation and swelling in the airways. This two-pronged approach works to both prevent asthma symptoms and control them if they occur. Using a combination inhaler can simplify the treatment regimen, as it merges two important therapies into one inhaler. This can make it easier to stick to your treatment plan and keep your asthma well-controlled.

Relievers are the emergency helpers. They're there for when you suddenly feel your asthma symptoms kicking in, like during an asthma attack. Medications like salbutamol work fast to open up your airways and make breathing easier.

It's important to take your controller medication regularly, even if you're feeling fine. Think of it as a daily shield against asthma attacks. And when you use an inhaler, make sure you're doing it right – if the medicine doesn't get into your lungs the way it should, it won't work as well. Your doctor can show you the best way to use it.

Side Effects

Talking about side effects with your doctor is a good idea too. For instance, after using an inhaled corticosteroid, you should rinse your mouth to help prevent getting a sore mouth or throat.

How do I know if my asthma is well controlled?

Asthma can be a bit tricky to manage, but understanding how to control it can make a big difference. Good asthma control means you're not reaching for your rescue inhaler (like Salbutamol, Ventolin, or Albuterol) more than four times a week, and ideally not even once at night, unless you're around something that triggers your asthma, like exercise or allergens (i.e. dogs or pollen). If you find yourself using your rescue inhaler more often, it's a sign that you might need a maintenance inhaler, which usually contains a steroid or a combination of medicines. This helps keep your asthma under control on a daily basis.

Why is keeping asthma well-controlled so important?

When your asthma is under control, you're less likely to have severe flare-ups from triggers. If your asthma goes from bad to worse, it can lead to serious issues like hospitalization or the need for strong medications like oral steroids, such as prednisone.

Oral steroids like prednisone are best avoided. One of the risks of repeated use of oral steroids is a condition called osteonecrosis, which damages your bones and can lead to needing a hip replacement. Osteonecrosis of the hip from oral steroids is responsible for about 10% of hip replacements in North America. However, the inhaled steroids in your regular asthma inhalers don't have this risk.

What happens if I have a cold?

When you catch a cold, which can trigger asthma, your doctor might increase your steroid or combination inhaler dose right when you start feeling sick - but make sure to do this only after talking to your doctor. For example, if you're using a steroid inhaler like Flovent 125mcg twice daily, your doctor might tell you to bump it up to 250 twice daily when you catch a cold. Once you're feeling better, you can go back to your normal dose. It's important to check with your doctor or pharmacist about how much you can safely take.

What if my asthma isn’t well controlled?

If your asthma isn't well-controlled with your current treatment, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor about making some changes. For instance, if you're only using a rescue inhaler, your doctor might add a steroid inhaler to your routine. And if you're already on a steroid inhaler and still struggling, switching to a combination inhaler like Symbicort could be the next step.

Managing asthma is all about staying on top of your symptoms and adjusting your treatment as needed, with the guidance of your healthcare provider. By doing this, you can keep your asthma under control and reduce the risk of serious problems down the road.

Lastly, remember to see your doctor regularly. They can check how your lungs are doing and adjust your medications if needed. With the right care, you can keep your asthma under control and do all the things you love to do. Remember, having asthma doesn't mean you can't have a full and active life – it just means taking some extra steps to take care of your breathing.

What is the cost of a maintenance inhaler?

Asthma inhalers can also be expensive, and we’ve tried to provide a summary of the average cost of inhalers. It’s important to note that these prices are estimates and can vary between pharmacies and are subject to change from the drug manufacturer.

Disclaimer: This blog post is intended for educational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider for personal health concerns.