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Description: Asthma by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD Definition Asthma is inflammation and narrowing of the airways (called the bronchial tubes).

Causes The cause of asthma is not known. It does seem to run in some families. Possible triggers of an asthma attack in a person with asthma include:

Cold weather Exercise Exposure to irritants or allergens,... More

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Asthma by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD Definition Asthma is inflammation and narrowing of the airways (called the bronchial tubes).

Causes The cause of asthma is not known. It does seem to run in some families. Possible triggers of an asthma attack in a person with asthma include:

Cold weather Exercise Exposure to irritants or allergens, including: Chemicals Cigarette smoke, smoke from a wood-burning stove Dust Mold and mildew Perfumed products Pet dander Pollen Smog or air pollution Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) Medications, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and beta-blockers Sinusitis Sulfites used in dried fruits and wine Viral illness Risk Factors A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.

A parent who has asthma Being overweight GERD History of multiple respiratory infections during childhood Living in a large urban area Low birth weight Regularly breathing in cigarette smoke (including second-hand smoke) Regularly breathing in industrial or agricultural chemicals Symptoms Symptoms include:

Chest pain Cough Shortness of breath Tightness in the chest Trouble breathing Wheezing Diagnosis The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam:

Tests may include:

Peak Flow Examination โ€“ blowing quickly and forcefully into a special instrument that measures your output of air

Pulmonary Function Tests (PFTs) โ€“ breathing into a machine that records information about the function of your lungs

Methacholine Provocation Test โ€“ lung function tests performed after taking a small dose of methacholine, which causes narrowing of the airways in susceptible people; helps confirm asthma in unclear cases

Allergy Tests โ€“ usually skin or sometimes blood tests to find out if allergies are causing your symptoms

Treatment Asthma is treated with medication. Often, you'll need to take more than one type of medication.

Asthma medications include:

Quick-Acting Inhaler (such as albuterol) โ€“ relaxes your airways so that they become wider again. These are used to stop an acute episode of asthma, or 'asthma attack.' (also called a rescue inhaler)

Long-Acting Inhaler (such as salmeterol) โ€“ used daily to prevent asthma attacks. This inhaler should not be used to try to stop an asthma attack in progress.

Steroid Inhaler โ€“ used daily to reduce inflammation in your airways. These types of inhalers should not be used to try to stop an asthma attack in progress.

Cromolyn Sodium or Nedocromil Sodium Inhaler โ€“ used daily to prevent asthma flare-ups. These may also be used just before exercise, if you have exercise-induced asthma. These types of inhalers should not be used to try to stop an asthma attack in progress.

Zafirlukast, Zileuton, and Montelukast โ€“ pills taken daily to help prevent asthma attacks

Corticosteroids โ€“ pills, injections, or intravenous (IV) medications given to treat an acute flare-up of symptoms. You may also take corticosteroid pills for a longer period of time if you have severe asthma that isn't responding to other treatments.

Theophylline โ€“ pills taken daily to help prevent asthma attacks

Epinephrine โ€“ a shot given to stop an asthma attack

Prevention There are no guidelines for preventing asthma because the cause is not known. However, you can help prevent asthma attacks by avoiding substances that trigger asthma attacks. Some general guidelines include:

Avoid breathing in chemicals or second-hand smoke. Avoid strenuous outdoor exercise during days with high air pollution, a high pollen count (if youโ€™re allergic to pollens), or a high ozone level. Consider getting HEPA filters for your heating/cooling system and your vacuum cleaner. Consider getting allergy shots, if allergies trigger your asthma attacks. Don't smoke. Don't use a wood-burning stove regularly. Get a yearly flu shot. Keep the humidity down in your house. Keep windows closed. Talk to your doctor about an appropriate level of exercise for you. Talk to your doctor about how to track your asthma, so you can identify and treat flare-ups immediately. Last reviewed: March 2004 by Seth Scholer, MD.

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