When you have asthma, your airways become inflamed, the muscles around the airways tighten and, therefore, make it difficult for air to pass through your lungs. You may have strong reactions to allergens and irritants — including dust, smoke, chemicals and pet dander — that make your breathing more difficult.
Severe asthma, which only affects a small number of people with asthma, causes more asthma-related symptoms and complications. For those with severe asthma, even maximum medication treatment is ineffective in controlling asthma attacks. Symptoms can make even the simplest daily activities difficult and prevent a good night’s sleep.
You can develop asthma at any age. Children with asthma may see improvements with age, and then symptoms may recur when they’re older. Or, some individuals go through childhood without asthma and then develop it in adulthood.
Asthma runs in families and is associated with allergies — you’re more likely to develop asthma if you have certain allergies. You also may be more likely to develop asthma if you were exposed to allergens and irritants when you were very young or had respiratory infections that damaged your lungs.
It’s difficult to prevent asthma since the exact cause isn’t known. However, if you’ve been diagnosed with asthma, you can take steps to prevent asthma attacks by avoiding irritants, monitoring your condition and taking prescribed medications. Your doctor may provide you with an asthma action plan to follow when your symptoms flare up.
Symptoms vary from person to person. Just because you have symptoms doesn’t mean you have asthma. Your doctor will perform lung function tests to diagnose your condition.
Symptoms of asthma include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
Some people have severe asthma attacks, which occur when their airways narrow. During an attack, they may experience wheezing and coughing, and have difficulty breathing and talking. In some instances, an asthma attack can require emergency care.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Your doctor will examine you, take your medical history, and perform lung function and allergy tests to determine if you have asthma. Your doctor will also assure that any related issues — such as sleep apnea, allergies or high blood pressure — have been addressed.
At El Camino Health, we offer a range of therapies for asthma, including:
- Fast-acting medications to relieve your symptoms.
- Longer acting medications to prevent your symptoms from occurring.
- Bronchial thermoplasty to open the airway and relieve tightness and wheezing in severe asthma.
For severe asthma, bronchial thermoplasty may offer relief. El Camino Health is among the first hospitals to offer the procedure. In clinical trials, participants experienced a 32 percent reduction in asthma attacks and an 84 percent reduction in emergency room visits due to their symptoms. In addition, trial participants had a 66 percent reduction in days lost from work, school and other activities due to asthma.
Talk to your doctor to find out if bronchial thermoplasty is right for you.