5 Things You Should Know About Asthma

By Ernst Lamothe Jr

Denise M. Sanchez-Tejera is an allergist and immunologist at Rochester Regional Health. “Asthma should not preclude an individual from participating in physical activities,” she says.

The lungs and airways are an important part of the respiratory system that effectively carries and stores oxygen.

A properly functioning respiratory system allows breaths to flow in and out of the lungs and into the airways. This is not always the case for individuals because some suffer from a well-known medical condition called asthma.

One in 13 people in the United States have asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Certain factors can lead to worsening asthma symptoms in individuals with a prior history of asthma or cause asthma-like symptoms in individuals with no prior history of asthma,” said physician Denise M. Sanchez-Tejera, an allergist and immunologist for Rochester Regional Health.

1. Factors

Asthma appears in children and some adults that develop the medical condition later in life. Each occurrence in children and adults arises with different symptoms that are important to understand if faced with similar symptoms.

Common symptoms within this age group can include chest tightness, coughing, wheezing, dark circles underneath the eyes, and difficulty eating or sucking for infants. These symptoms can range from mild to severe.

Individuals can have situational asthma and can experience symptoms with exertion of exercise or during working hours if they have occupational exposures in the workplace. In the younger pediatric population respiratory infections are a significant cause of asthma triggers, especially viral infections such as viruses of the common cold, flu, RSV or other viruses. A major asthma trigger in individuals with a history of allergies are allergens such as pollen, pet dander, dust mites and others.

“We recently had poor air quality days that led to an increase in asthma problems and this is known to cause asthma issues in general,” said Sanchez-Tejera. “Places with poor air quality such as urban areas typically see higher rates of asthma exacerbations. There are yet other causes including tobacco smoke, weather changes and irritants that can lead to worsening asthma symptoms.”

There is also a family history correlation with asthma.

“Asthma often has a genetic component and tends to run in families. The risk of developing asthma is higher in individuals whose parents have asthma. However, not everyone with a family history of asthma will necessarily develop the condition,” she added.

2. Bad air quality

This year we had a number of days that were labeled as ‘poor air quality’ stemming from the exposure to the Canadian wildfires. Smoke from wildfires can contain harmful particles and gases, and exposure to these can cause acute respiratory symptoms especially for individuals with asthma.

“We did see an uptick in asthma symptoms in individuals with an established history of asthma and also worsening respiratory symptoms in patients that never really had a history of asthma,” said Sanchez-Tejera.

3. Misconceptions

Some people believe that asthma is just a childhood disease. But in fact, it affects people of all ages. While it is more likely for this to begin in childhood, it can develop later in life. In addition, some myths about asthma treatment have caused some patients to avoid being seen or treated.

“We hope not to hear that asthma medications are addictive. It is not uncommon to find parents that are hesitant on starting or continuing medications because they do not want their child to be addicted to these,” said Sanchez-Tejera. “Asthma medications including inhalers and steroids are not addictive and stopping them without medical guidance can lead to uncontrolled asthma.”

“Asthma guidelines are updated periodically and we encourage individuals with asthma to regularly follow up with their allergist or pulmonologist to make adjustments on their medication,” Sanchez-Tejera added.

She also wants people to avoid thinking that people with asthma can’t have fully physical lives.

“People with asthma should continue to engage in physical activity,” she explained. “Asthma should not preclude an individual from participating in physical activities.”

4. Handling asthma

Asthma can be managed with proper medical treatment, lifestyle and education and by doing this, negative consequences of asthma can be prevented or minimized.

It is important to be in tune and recognize our symptoms and understand scenarios that can trigger asthma and this includes identifying and avoiding triggers such as allergens, smoke, pollution and respiratory infections. One should take steps to minimize exposure to these.

“Maintaining a clean environment free from allergens is also helpful. Quitting smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke is advised,” she said. “Having a good understanding of the medications needed to control symptoms is of crucial importance. Asthma patients should know how and when to use the inhalers prescribed and follow an asthma action plan as described by their healthcare provider.”

5. Avoid smoking

Smoking is one of the worst habits for asthma and this includes active smoking as well as exposure to secondhand smoke. These can trigger asthma symptoms and make them more severe. Cigarette smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in the U.S. Cigarette smoke irritates the lungs, causing redness, swelling and more mucus. Your lungs have a natural defense to keep dirt and germs out.

“If you have asthma, we recommend quitting smoking and avoiding exposure to smoke,” she added. “Asthma can have a long-term impact on lung development and overall health. Not addressing or ignoring asthma symptoms can lead to lung remodeling that could lead to worse overall health.”