Health & Safety

June 22, 2012

Asthma: Serious but controllable

by Dr. Christopher Coop and Marian Budnik RN, CCP
56th Medical Group

Asthma is a serious condition that can surface without warning. But, asthma can be controlled, thus eliminating dangerous symptoms.

Asthma causes inflammation or swelling of the airways in the lungs. Often the person with asthma does not feel this inflammation, but the lungs do. Uncontrolled inflammation (swelling) makes airways more sensitive to asthma triggers such as dust, pollen, cold, smoke and exercise.

Things that trigger asthma are different for everyone. Exposure to asthma triggers can cause constriction of the muscles around the airways, which can lead to asthma symptoms like shortness of breath, wheezing, tightness of the chest and coughing. Lung function declines for people with asthma, particularly with people who smoke.

Asthma control is about more than just treating sudden asthma symptoms. It’s also about managing asthma daily so sufferers have fewer or no asthma symptoms in the first place.

The key to managing asthma is to take control of the inflammatory process that causes airway obstruction. This requires daily treatment with an anti-inflammatory medication which will reduce both inflammation and airway hyper-responsiveness. This type of medication should be taken daily as prescribed by the member’s provider.

Another type of asthma medication is called bronchodilators; they are faster acting and will quickly open the airways by relaxing the bronchial muscles.

When considering an asthma diagnosis, the provider will attempt to rule out possible causes of the symptoms experienced. The provider will take a thorough history, perform a physical exam and order diagnostic testing which may include laboratory testing, lung function tests and a chest x-ray. Asthma that is triggered by allergies may require skin testing, which requires a referral to the allergy and immunization clinic.

Every patient needs to follow an individually developed asthma management plan to control symptoms. Members who have been diagnosed with asthma but have not received a personal written asthma action plan should request one. An asthma action plan is a road map describing how to control asthma on a day-to-day basis and, most importantly, how to handle worsening asthma or attacks. The plan also explains when to call the doctor and when to go to the emergency room.

With education and the right asthma management plan, patients and families can learn how to manage and control symptoms and confront asthma exacerbations with confidence. Achieving better control of asthma can make breathing easier and foster a better quality of life for sufferers.

The 56th Medical Group provides programs and services for the diagnosis and treatment of asthma. For more information and resources, call a primary care provider or health care coach at (623) 856-2273.

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