If breathing doesn’t always come easy, you’re not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, asthma affects one in 13 people. With proper care, people with asthma can live healthy, active lives.
Asthma is a lung disease that causes air passages to swell. It narrows your airways and makes them more sensitive to irritants. Common irritants include allergens, air pollution, hot or cold weather and vigorous exercise.
Living with asthma can feel frustrating and limiting. We’re here to help you manage your asthma so it doesn’t get in the way of your daily activities. Our board-certified doctors work closely with you to make sure you understand your triggers and have an action plan that’s helping you improve.
Our asthma specialists are available at clinics throughout the Twin Cities and western Wisconsin. This includes two allergy and asthma specialty clinics where our team of specialists helps treat and manage even the most difficult-to-control asthma conditions. At these locations, you can see an asthma specialist and an allergist in one visit if you have both conditions.
Asthma symptoms may differ from person to person and in children and adults. For some people, the main symptom is a persistent (constant) cough. Other people may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it might be a good idea to schedule an appointment with one of our primary care doctors. Our primary care doctors are experts in diagnosing hundreds of conditions.
Anytime you have new or unusual symptoms that you are concerned about or are worsening, you should talk to a doctor so they can help guide you on next steps.
An important way to manage asthma is to notice how your body responds to different environments and materials. Most asthma flare-ups occur because of one or more triggers. Common triggers include:
Your immune system is designed to protect your body from harmful bacteria and viruses. In some people, the immune system can overreact to certain substances in our environment (allergens), which usually are not harmful. This over-reaction is called an allergic reaction or "allergy."
Allergic reactions can affect your:
Common allergens that are asthma triggers include:
Household allergens (dust mites, mold and cockroaches) – Dust mites are tiny bugs too small to see. You can find them in every home—in mattresses, pillows, carpets, bed covers, clothes, stuffed toys, furniture and other items covered with fabric. Mites and mold are common in warm, damp and humid environments. They tend to concentrate in areas such as the basement. The dried droppings and remains of cockroaches also can cause allergic reactions.
Animal allergens – Cats, dogs, rabbits, horses, guinea pigs and birds may trigger allergic reactions. Allergens may be found in animal dander (similar to dandruff), sweat glands, saliva or urine. Reptiles and fish are better pet options for people with animal allergies.
Seasonal allergens (pollens) – Tree pollens are most abundant during the spring, grass pollens in the spring and summer, and weed pollens (such as ragweed) are most common in late summer and fall. Seasonal allergens will vary by what part of the country or world you live in.
Bacterial and viral infections are especially common asthma triggers for children. Colds and flu (influenza) tend to trigger asthma flare-ups more often than strep throat or sinus infections. Upper respiratory infections mostly affect the upper airways in the nose, throat and sinuses. But your lower airways also may become irritated if you have asthma.
Irritants are environmental factors that affect your airways rather than your immune system. Common irritants that may trigger your asthma include:
Exercise is a common trigger for people with asthma. For some people, exercise is just one of several factors that can trigger symptoms. But for others, exercise is the only trigger.
People with exercise-induced asthma are sensitive to low temperatures and dry air. Usually, air is moistened and warmed as you breathe in through the nose. When you breathe hard, as when physically active, you breathe more air in through your mouth. Colder, drier air flows into your lower airways, which can trigger an asthma flare-up.
A range of emotions can trigger asthma. Crying, laughing hard and feeling stressed or anxious can affect normal breathing and cause an asthma flare-up.
Aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) act as triggers in a small percentage of people with asthma. These flare-ups can come on quickly.
Heartburn symptoms from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can trigger asthma flare-ups in children and adults who have asthma.
Common tests used to diagnose asthma include:
We’ll listen to your breathing for any obstructions or buildup. We might also feel the muscles around your lungs and throat and perform breathing tests.
A spirometer is a sensor you blow into that measures the amount of air your lungs can hold and how quickly you inhale and exhale. This is the most common test for asthma.
If there is a question about your asthma diagnosis, you may have a reversibility test. This test uses a spirometer and bronchodilator. A bronchodilator is a medicine that relaxes the muscles in your airways. You’ll be asked to blow into the spirometer and your doctor will record the reading. Then, you’ll use a nebulizer to take a bronchodilator such as albuterol. Next, you’ll blow into the spirometer again and your doctor will record the second reading. Your doctor will use the results to determine your diagnosis.
Asthma is commonly managed with medication and making a plan with your doctor to manage asthma triggers and symptoms.
Various medications are available to prevent and control asthma symptoms. Most people who regularly take asthma medication lead healthy lives.
Our doctors will prescribe asthma medication to meet your unique needs. Some people with asthma take medication daily while others take medication only with a flare-up or before or after physical activity.
Asthma medications come in different forms like inhalers, nebulizer solutions and tablets. There are two types of asthma medications:
Quick-relief medications – These medications, also called rescue or short-acting medications, provide quick relief of asthma symptoms (coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness). They help relax muscles around your airways.
Long-term medications – Also called control or long-acting medications, these medications prevent or reduce inflammation and excess mucus in your airways. They also can decrease twitchiness in your airway muscles. Several types of long-term control asthma medications are available. These medications are taken regularly, up to two times a day, even when you are not having asthma symptoms. Your doctor will tell you how often you should take your long-term medication.
We’ll work with you to develop a plan for managing your medications, triggers and symptoms. Avoiding triggers is the most effective way to prevent asthma flare-ups.
Asthma management plans may use a color-coded zone system to quickly understand how well controlled your asthma is how to stop symptoms from worsening. By following your asthma management plan, you can learn to manage asthma symptoms and keep doing the everyday activities you enjoy.
If you’re concerned about your symptoms, it’s probably time to visit a doctor. If you haven’t talked to a doctor about your asthma symptoms before, it’s usually best to start with a visit with a primary care doctor. Many of our primary care doctors routinely treat asthma and get patients started on treatment plans.
If you have difficult-to-control asthma that requires additional expertise, we’ll help connect you to an asthma specialist who can provide care for even the most complex asthma cases.
It’s not clear what causes asthma but, doctors know what can trigger asthma symptoms. Asthma triggers vary person-to-person. The most common ones are:
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