When Asthma Attacks: How to Manage It and Stay Out of the ER

baseball-kids-fbGet back in the game with these tips for controlling asthma, plus 8 inflammation-fighting lifestyle choices you can implement right now.

Springtime in North Texas is that too-short season when everyone wants to get outside and get active before temperatures rise. Everyone, that is, except the 23 million Americans who suffer from asthma. According to the CDC, 60 percent of those folks — around 14 million people — limit their physical activity because of their disease.

The fear of an attack that many asthma sufferers feel is real: in 2009 the CDC reported 480,000 asthma-related hospitalizations, 1.9 million ER visits and 8.9 million doctor and clinic visits. In fact, asthma is the leading cause of child emergency room visits and hospitalizations, as well as missed school days.

Sadly, also in 2009, 3,388 people died from asthma.

Those alarming statistics shouldn’t sideline asthma sufferers. In fact, physical activity is necessary to build and maintain lung capacity and function. The key is getting your symptoms under control with medical care and avoiding your triggers.

What is asthma?

Essentially, asthma is your body trying to protect itself from substances or stressors it considers harmful. In the process, it overreacts to the perceived threat. Airways become swollen from inflammation and constricted from muscle contractions. They also produce extra mucus. Episodes of worsening asthma, called asthma attacks, occur when the narrowing worsens.

There’s no cure for asthma, but it can be managed.

Types of asthma.

Asthma can be:

  • Allergic: a reaction to allergens, including pets, dust, smoke, pollen, exhaust fumes, household chemicals, mold, perfume, etc.
  • Nonallergic: a reaction to cold, dry air, exercise or stress

Asthma signs and symptoms.

In children, boys are more likely to get asthma than girls. Your child’s first signs of asthma may happen after a respiratory infection. If your child is exhibiting these symptoms, head to your nearest emergency room or pediatrician as quickly as possible.

Symptoms of asthma in children:

  • Wheezing, raspy breathing
  • Intermittent coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Trouble sleeping and fatigue

Asthma can also develop later in life. If symptoms aren’t recognized and treated, lung damage can result.

Symptoms of adult asthma can include:

  • Chronic, persistent cough
  • Frequent bouts of bronchitis, or frequent bouts as a child
  • A constant need to clear your throat
  • Often losing your voice
  • Wheezing when you have a cold
  • Wheezing or coughing when you exercise
  • Getting winded by light exercise or household chores
  • Always feeling tired

How to manage asthma.

Seek diagnosis and treatment. Asthma that is not managed and controlled can turn scary very quickly. If you suspect that you or your child has asthma, make an appointment with your primary care physician or pediatrician to determine whether a specialist is needed.

If you are referred to a specialist, here’s what you might expect:

  • A physical exam and health history to rule out other conditions
  • Lung function tests to diagnose and categorize the severity of the condition
  • Allergy tests to determine triggers
  • A control plan for managing asthma

Follow your control plan. This is the key to keeping lungs healthy and symptoms managed so you can live your life the way you want. Don’t deviate from your plan, which may include:

  • Daily treatments: medications that work for you and when to take them
  • Treatments for flare-ups, such as an inhaler that you always carry with you
  • How to handle a breathing emergency
  • Tips for avoiding or minimizing your triggers

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Make healthy lifestyle choices. Good news! There are other things you can do to help manage your asthma. It’s not just about finding the right medication — it involves a whole-lifestyle approach because almost every aspect of your life can greatly influence symptoms. Use these additional tips to round out your control plan.

  • Keep an asthma diary: Symptoms can change over time, so tracking symptoms and triggers can help your doctor fine-tune your control plan.
  • Get tested for allergies: Half of all asthma cases are related to allergies, so find out if you’re allergic to something and if additional medications will help.
  • Check the air out there: The Air Quality Index can help you decide whether to go out or stay in, especially when it’s hot and humid.
  • Shower, shampoo and change: Outdoor pollutants and allergens follow you inside on clothes, shoes, skin and hair.
  • Check the air inside, too: Indoor air quality is a growing problem and you may be surprised to learn what’s floating around in yours.
  • Manage stress: Fear of an asthma attack is stressful and a sign that you are not controlling your asthma. Manage stress-induced asthma with exercise and relaxation techniques.
  • Exercise: Besides being good for your heart and lungs, physical activity can reduce cortisol (a stress hormone) and help you manage one of the risk factors for asthma: being overweight.
  • Drink coffee: Caffeine, citrus, apples, nuts, carrots, onions, leafy greens, tuna and yogurt can all help fight asthma inflammation.

If you or someone in your family experiences breathing problems, one of our many Medical City Healthcare emergency locations has you covered. With average wait times posted online, if you do have an emergency, you can spend less time waiting and more time on the moments that matter most.

Find a fast Medical City Healthcare ER near you.