Friday, August 7, 2020 12:36 PM

Get the asthma basics

If you suffer with asthma and live in the Central San Joaquin Valley, you know that the summertime can be challenging. The heat, poor air quality and exposure to allergens can worsen your asthma and make it harder to breathe.
 
There are more than 550,000 residents with asthma in the San Joaquin Valley, an estimated 20% of adults. And one in six children in the Central Valley suffer from it – making that the highest asthma rate for kids in the state and the nation. That’s why it’s important to understand what asthma is, what triggers it, and how to manage it.
 

What is asthma?

Dr. Praveen Buddiga, board certified by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology and assistant clinical professor at UCSF Fresno says to think of asthma as “allergies in the lungs”. It may be caused by allergens like dust, pets, trees, weeds, fine particulate matter like diesel exhaust, outdoor air pollution, inhaling cold air and a variety of other things.

People with asthma have airways that are more easily inflamed and irritated, and when they become irritated, they narrow and swell, making it difficult to breathe. Asthma feels like a tight chest or as if you’ve run a mile and it takes more effort to catch your breath.
 

What causes asthma?

When you’re exposed to something that causes your asthma to flare-up, it’s called a trigger, and it can cause you to have an asthma attack. An asthma attack happens when the airways in your lungs become inflamed, the muscles around them tighten and they fill with mucus. This then narrows your airways making it harder to breathe.
 
Asthma triggers are different for each person. It’s important to know what triggers your asthma so you can stay away or reduce your exposure.
 
Some other common asthma triggers are:

  • Tobacco Smoke (tobacco, burning wood or grass)

  • Dust mites

  • Mold

  • Exercise

  • Acid reflux

  • Some medicines

  • Infections from the flu, colds and other respiratory viruses

  • Sinus infections

  • Breathing in chemicals


How to tell if you have asthma

Not everyone with asthma will have the same symptoms. You may only have some symptoms or different symptoms at different times. They might also be different each time.
 
Signs and symptoms of asthma include:

  • Wheezing

  • Coughing

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest tightness or pain

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Difficulty talking

  • Anxiousness or panic

  • Fatigue

 

How is asthma diagnosed and treated?

To determine if you actually have asthma, see your doctor for a diagnosis. Your doctor will likely perform an exam, take your medical history and may order lung function tests. You may also have allergy tests.

“Whenever a patient comes in for asthma, we always test for allergies, because we want to get down to the nitty gritty to find out what the triggering allergen is, and try to treat that,” says Dr. Buddiga.

According to Dr. Buddiga, uncontrolled allergies have a significant impact on asthma. He stresses that allergy shots or allergy drops can improve asthmatic symptoms and prevent asthma progression.
 

Getting your asthma under control

It’s vital to get your asthma under control. You can also see an allergy and asthma specialist who can help you create a plan for tracking your symptoms, prescribing inhaled medications that reduce or get rid of your asthma attacks and ultimately control your asthma.
 
An asthma attack can become a life-threatening emergency. Don’t be afraid to seek emergency care should you need it. If you think you have asthma, make an appointment to see your doctor.
 
Visit Community Medical Centers’ Health Library for more information on asthma.