Living with Asthma

Having asthma does alter you life, but it doesn’t have to limit it or prevent you from living a normal life. It only requires some simple steps and good organizing skills for you to be able to live your life to the fullest. With lifestyle changes, proper treatment, and close care from your medical provider, people with asthma can live healthy, happy, active lives.

Can asthma happen to me?

Asthma is the most common chronic condition among children and is estimated that over 235 million people are suffering from it. Asthma is highly under-diagnosed and under-treated, with 80% of deaths due to asthma occurring in low and middle-income countries.

Most people realize they have asthma due to their difficulty of breathing. Especially in children, the inability to breath is very stressful and waking up in the middle of the night feeling suffocated can be a traumatic experience.

The most common signs include difficulty breathing, whistling sound when inhaling, wheezing when exhaling, coughing, and a feeling of tightness in your chest. Asthma symptoms can flare up and lead to an asthma attack, which involves a fast heartbeat, tiredness, faster breathing pace, brittleness, blue fingers or lips, even fainting.

Asthma has many triggers, but unfortunately the exact cause is not known. People with asthma or allergic conditions in their family history, people who had suffered from bronchiolitis, and/or were exposed to smoking when they were children are at higher risk of developing asthma. Nonetheless, anyone can be diagnosed with asthma. There are many asthma triggers which are particularly important for people with asthma as they can worsen their symptoms and these include:

  • Infections such as common cold and flu
  • Allergies, which could also be caused by pets
  • Exposure to second hand smoking
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including ibuprofen and aspirin
  • Feelings of stress and anxiety
  • Food additives such as sulphites
  • Outdoor climates, especially changes in the season, cold wind, too hot days, high humidity
  • Dust and mustiness in indoor spaces
  • Food allergies, such as nuts allergy

If you suspect that you or your child may develop asthma symptoms, it is highly advisable to visit a GP so you or your child can be tested. There are many breathing tests, including peak flow, spirometry, airways responsiveness test, FeNO testing, and allergy tests, most of which involve inhaling or blowing through a tube to examine your lung flow. Following your diagnosis, you can design your asthma plan with your doctor.

I am diagnosed with asthma. Now what?

Asthma has no treatment, but with proper management you will be able to live a normal life. The main steps to be taken first include avoidance of asthma triggers such as infections, weather conditions, or allergies. If avoidance is not enough there are different types of medications can be implemented based on individual need. Such medication are broken down into rescue inhalers, prevention inhalers, long-acting reliever inhalers, tablets, and drugs.

The rescue inhalers contain short-acting beta2-agonist, which facilitates breathing and is used to treat asthma symptoms temporarily. All people with asthma should have a rescue inhaler, although they should not be used very often. If your asthma syptoms are occuring often then you might need the preventer inhaler, which contains steroid medication. This inhaler should be used regularly even without symptoms. In cases of more severe form of asthma, the specialist may recommend the long-acting reliever inhalers, which act as the normal reliever inhalers but their effects last longer. In cases of asthma attacks or severe asthma that cannot be controlled with inhalers, the specialist may prescribe steroid tablets or omalizumab or mepolizumab, strong steroid medication designed to treat inflammation and should only be taken for a limited time.

Apart from medication, the most important thing to do when diagnosed with asthma is to design an asthma plan with your physicians, especially when it comes to children. Asthma plan is an action plan containing all valuable information regarding your medications, symptoms, and your doctor’s appointments. It works very easy and is highly valuable to monitor your asthma condition and avoid any attacks. It is even more vital if your child has asthma, so not only should you can monitor their state but also teach them how to cope with their condition.

There are three main treatment zones; green, yellow, and red. These zones will be categorized based on symptoms and a breathing device called a spirometer. The green zone is when your child is doing perfect. He or she is breathing well, is not coughing, and can perform activities without any trouble. This stage is where you want your child to be. In the green zone, their medication regimen is working well so they can continue using it as prescribed and participate in normal everyday activities. The yellow zone is when your child is having difficulty performing everyday tasks, having chest pains, coughing, or having difficulty breathing. This stage requires attention and the doctor might provide some additional medication to relieve the symptoms. The red zone implies danger and is when the child has a hard and fast breathing pace, difficulty in thinking or walking, nostrils are open or ribs renege when inhaling. This stage is severe and requires immediate attention, even dialing 911 will often be needed.

The goal of the asthma plan is for your child to always be in the green zone. I witness my nephew, Eric uses his spirometer every day to make sure he stays in the green zone. And in case his symptoms indicate he has moved to the yellow zone, he immediately let us know so we can deal with the flare up.  It is truly inspiring! The asthma plan is not only for children though, but also for adults. It is estimated that those with an asthma plan are four times less likely to be admitted to the hospital due to asthma attack!

Treatment, planning, management. Is there anything else I can do?

Most importantly, you need to take your medication on a regular basis, keep asthma plan close to you and up-to-date, and always go to your doctor’s appointment. In case your child has asthma, explain to them their condition and how to manage it. Share the asthma plan with their teacher, school nurse, and other people who they come in contact with often and teach them how to provide your child’s medication as prescribed. Besides the asthma plan and treatment, there are many things you can do yourself to avoid any asthma attacks and lead a normal life.

Quit smoking

Smoking is generally bad for you, but in case of asthma, its impact is even more dangerous. By quitting smoking, your symptoms will become less severe, will occur less often, and the number of your asthma attacks will be likely decline. Also, do not allow other people to smoke in your house. Exposure to second-hand smoking can also flare up your symptoms and is one of the common asthma triggers. In case a child has asthma, it is even more crucial that all family members quit smoking or at least avoid smoking in the house. Take action so your child is not subjected to any smoking indoors or outdoors.

Fitness and sports

Try to be as active as possible. Do not overexert yourself, but aim on a 150-minute moderate exercise per week, such as cycling or fast walking or aerobic. If you experience asthma symptoms while exercising it is advisable to let your nurse or doctor know and they might update your asthma plan or your treatment regime. It is important to always have your rescue inhaler with you while sporting and always notify someone that you will be exercising. In case you child has asthma, encourage him to play sports and engage in outdoor activities, but always keep track of his conditions and his medication.

Focus on a proper diet and maintain a healthy figure

People suffering from asthma are able to eat almost everything, although some are prone to have food allergies, such as nut allergy, which is an asthma trigger. People with food allergies should avoid consuming these foods, but other than that most people can enjoy a full healthy diet.

Cooking at home is always good advice, as you avoid any food which your loved ones are allergic to and also due to the better-quality ingredients you can utilize and create a lovely meal.

It is essential that you strive to maintain a healthy weight as it will allow you to control your symptoms and avoid asthma attacks. A normal weight and a body in good condition will also decrease your risks for any other health problems, such as heart disease. Being overweight and obesity should be avoided at all costs. Especially if your child is diagnosed with asthma, make sure he receives a balanced diet and regular exercise.

Besides the comorbid issues with obesity, research has shown that some asthma medication may not be as effective for obese people. Additionally, overweight and obese people often experience problems with breathing due to the additional weight, which is risky for people with asthma, particularly for children.

Emphasize on proper rest

Most asthma symptoms worsen during night and is not uncommon that you wake up in the middle of the night with chest pains and problems breathing. It is essential to have restful nights as your condition will only get worse with the lack of sleep. In case your child has asthma and does not rest enough, he might develop problems of concertation and learning and he might not perform well in school. If you or your child face trouble sleeping, you should consult your doctor and he would probable provide you with a viable treatment.

Identify and avoid your triggers

Although there are some universal asthma triggers it would be wise to identify your own triggers and avoid them so your symptoms do not worsen. It would also be recommended to discuss any triggers you identified with your doctor.

If your trigger is a food allergy, try to avoid eating the specific ingredient and cook at home as often as you can. If your trigger is weather conditions, unfortunately you cannot do much, but you can avoid too hot or too humid climates and try to wear scarfs with cold winds to avoid getting a cold but also the dust from the air.

You should maintain your indoor space as clean and as free from dust and mold as possible. Some easy steps to be taken are the following:

  • Do not use any carpets, but instead use tiles, wooden, or laminate floors. The duct trapped in the carpeting can cause your symptoms to flare up.
  • Use your vacuum cleaner and your mop at least once a week and wear a mask while cleaning your house. A good advice is to use the HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter vacuum cleaners. This way, you keep your air clean besides your floors and furniture. Remember to change your vacuum filters regularly.
  • In case of rodents, roaches, or other bugs do not neglect to hire professional help and perform a comprehensive pest control. These animals may be harmful for everyone, not only to people with asthma.
  • Prefer to wash bedsheets, pillowcases, duvets, and stuffed toys once a week, preferably in high degrees, around 140 degrees F. Another good proposal is to use dust-mite covers over the mattress and the pillows so to avoid dust while sleeping. Dust-mites are microscopic insects which ignite asthma symptoms.
  • Avoid moist and mold by any means necessary. Attend any leaks or water spills to avoid mold being developed. Remove any humidifier or swamp cooler. Try to maintain the indoor humidity between 30 and 50 percent.
  • Command any pets. If you already have a cat or a dog, try and keep them in specifics rooms in the house to limit their fur from going all over the house. Especially cat dander, which is a common trigger.

Asthma, Children and School

If you child is diagnosed with asthma, his or her school needs to be notified. Talk with your childs teachers to discuss medications, the severity of their asthma, and what they should do if your child experiences an asthma attack. It is also help to consult with the school nurse, and provide him or her with your childs list of medications, asthma plan and possible triggers.

It is highly advisable to share your child’s condition and asthma plan with the people who will be close to him or her during and after school hours. The gym teacher is another essential person to be notified as they can keep a close eye on your child to avoid any asthma attack but also to encourage them to exercise. The school counselor or psychologist should be informed as well and you should also encourage your child to consult him or her, as having a chronic condition may have an emotional and psychological impact.

Moreover, stress is an asthma trigger and your child avoiding stress and anxiety would be advisable. Last but not least, you should also brief the school bus driver about your child’s condition so he can handle any asthma attack or severe symptoms.

Food for thought

Asthma is a chronic condition, which may be incurable, but it is highly manageable. With just a few adjustments in your everyday life and with a proper management plan you or your child can live a full life without any issues.

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