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Asthma
Student Health Information Page compiled by: Daneyal Syed

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a disease that:
  • Affects your lungs
  • Is one of the most common lifelong chronic diseases
  • Causes wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and night time or early morning coughing

Swelling of airways to the lungs due to irritants such as pollen, dust, smoke or pet dander can cause symptoms. Some people’s symptoms are so severe that they require hospitalization.

Although asthma cannot be cured, it is possible to successfully manage your disease and reduce and prevent asthma attacks. If your asthma is in control, you should expect:

  • No or few asthma symptoms, even at night or after exercise
  • Prevention of all or most asthma attacks
  • Participation in all activities, including exercise
  • No emergency room visits or hospital stays
  • Less need for quick-relief medicines

Successful asthma management begins with the right diagnosis early in the disease.

How Can You Tell if You Have Asthma?

Asthma is a serious disease that must be properly diagnosed by a doctor and appropriately treated.

Coughing a lot, especially at night, chest tightness, wheezing, colds lasting more than 10 days, and breathing problems that worsen after physical activity or at certain times of the year may be signs that you have asthma.  It is important that a doctor properly diagnosis you with the disease.  The doctor will ask about symptoms and measure how well your lungs are working using a breathing test, called spirometry.

The cause of asthma is unknown.  You are more likely to have asthma if someone in your family has asthma.  Regular physical exams that include checking your lung function and checking for allergies can help your doctor determine whether you have asthma.

What is an Asthma Attack?

An asthma attack happens when the airways that carry air to your lungs become smaller, blocking airflow.  During an attack, the sides of the airways swell and the airways shrink.  Less air gets in and out of your lungs, and mucous that your body makes clogs up the airways even more.  This leads to coughing, chest tightness, and wheezing.

“Triggers” and Avoiding Asthma Attacks

Allergens and irritants play a significant role in triggering asthma attacks. “Triggers” are things that can cause asthma symptoms. Each person may react to triggers differently, or not at all. Be sure to work with your doctor to identify your asthma triggers.

Some of the common triggers are:

    Smoke
  • Smoke from a cigarette, cigar or pipe contains many harmful substances.
  • Smoking and secondhand smoke can trigger asthma attacks and increase the severity of attacks.
  • If you have asthma and smoke, you are strongly encouraged to quit smoking.
  • Don’t let people smoke around you.
    Dust Mites
  • Dust mites are tiny bugs that are found in fabrics and furniture, and can trigger asthma in people with allergies to dust mites.
  • Wash bedding in hot water, vacuum carpets and furniture, and wash stuffed toys regularly to prevent dust mite triggered asthma.
    Air Pollution
  • When inhaled, outdoor pollutants and pollen can aggravate the lungs and trigger asthma attacks.
  • Monitor the Air Quality Index on your local weather report and pay attention to asthma warning signs to plan your activities for when air pollution levels will be low.
    Molds
  • Inhaling mold can trigger an asthma attack.
  • Get rid of mold in your home and prevent mold from growing by keeping humidity levels low using an air conditioner or dehumidifier.
    Cockroaches and pests
  • Droppings and body parts of cockroaches and other pests can trigger asthma symptoms.
  • Keep eating areas clean and free of clutter and crumbs to prevent cockroaches from infesting your home.
    Pets
  • Furry pets can trigger asthma symptoms.
  • If you have a furry pet, keep it out of the person with asthma’s bedroom and vacuum often.
    Other triggers
  • Infections, allergies, breathing in chemicals can cause asthma attacks.
  • It’s important to know that some commonly taken pain medicines (i.e. aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen) can trigger asthma attacks in some individuals. Products with acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, are a safer alternative for people who develop asthma attacks with aspirin pain medicines.
If your asthma is uncontrolled, consider seeing an asthma specialist/allergist.

Free asthma and allergy screenings are available across the country. Visit www.acaai.org to find a screening location near you. To find an allergist, click on “Locate an Allergist.”

The important thing to remember is that you can control your asthma.

To learn more about how you can control your asthma, visit www.cdc.gov/asthma.

Living With Asthma

Asthma is a long-term disease that has no cure. However, by taking an active role in your treatment your asthma can be controlled.
This involves:
  • Working with your doctor and other health care providers to create and follow a plan specific to your needs to manage your asthma and prevent asthma attacks
  • Avoiding asthma triggers. However, physical activity should not be avoided. Physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.

Medicines prescribed to treat your asthma may seem difficult to understand and difficult to use. Asthma is usually treated with two types of medicines: long-term control and quick-relief medicines. Long-term control medicines help prevent symptoms by preventing airways from swelling. These medicines do not give you quick relief from symptoms. Quick-relief, or “rescue”, medicines relieve the symptoms of an asthma attack.
Asthma is well controlled if:

  • You can do all your normal activities without breathing difficulties.
  • You have symptoms no more than 2 days a week, and these symptoms don’t wake you from sleep more than 1 or 2 nights a month.
  • You take quick-relief medicines no more than 2 days a week.

If your asthma is uncontrolled, consider seeing an asthma specialist/allergist.

Resources and Support

Free asthma and allergy screenings are available across the country. Visit www.acaai.org to find a screening location near you. To find an allergist, click on “Locate an Allergist.”

To learn more about how you can control your asthma, visit www.cdc.gov/asthma.

Chicagoland Asthma Resources

Chicago Asthma Consortium
888-268-8334
www.chicagoasthma.org

Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago
 1440 W Washington Blvd.
Chicago, IL 60607
 888-880-LUNG (5864)
www.lungchicago.org

Pulmonary & Critical Care
Loyola University Medical Center
2160 South First Avenue Building 54 – Room 131A
Maywood, IL 60153
708-216-0461

Allergy & Immunology
Loyola University Medical Center
2160 South First Avenue Building 54 – Room 121
Maywood, IL 60153
708-216-2012