Asthma, a medical condition which causes a restriction of the airways, comes with a variety of signs and symptoms, many of which are very easy to recognize. Patients may experience chronic asthma symptoms, signs of a low-grade case of asthma, and some experience more severe outbreaks of symptoms known as asthma attacks. Asthma attacks can be fatal if they are not treated. People who experience asthma symptoms or asthma attacks should seek medical attention to learn more about how their asthma can be prevented or controlled.
One of the classic signs of asthma is difficulty breathing, which can be accompanied by a tight or constricted feeling in the chest. Asthma sufferers are also very prone to wheezing, with some developing a whistling noise with each exhalation. Frequent coughing, especially in the evening, is another common sign of asthma, as is the development of significant breathing problems during colds.
Nasal congestion often occurs in people with asthma, with the nasal mucus flooding the airways and making it difficult to breathe. Asthma sufferers may also have trouble breathing during and after exercise, sometimes developing extreme fatigue or nausea after exercise. They can also feel chronically tired, irritable, or unfocused. For people who use a peak flow meter, a decline in peak flow output is another strong sign of asthma.
In an asthma attack, asthma symptoms get much worse. The difficulty breathing may progress into an inability to breathe at all, accompanied with very tight chest and neck muscles, a sense of panic, clammy skin, bluish fingertips, and difficulty speaking. These symptoms occur when the airways have become severely inflamed, constricted, or blocked with mucus, and the patient may require medications or medical intervention to be able to breathe again.
Left untreated, asthma symptoms tend to become more severe, and people may begin to experience frequent asthma attacks. Even in people who do not have full-blown attacks, the development of more severe chronic symptoms is a cause for concern, as untreated asthma can complicate a variety of medical conditions.
Asthma symptoms can develop in both adults and children. Chronic coughing is often the strongest warning sign of asthma, especially if it is combined with wheezing or difficulty exercising. With medical treatment, people can reduce their symptoms by taking drugs which keep their airways open, and they can have access to drugs which can be used to dilate the airways during an asthma attack. Asthma treatment may also include an evaluation for allergies, stress-induced asthma, and other situations which could have an impact on the frequency and severity of asthma attacks.
What are the Different Types of Asthma Medicine?
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the lungs and airways, and may cause shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and chest tightness. Asthma may be treated by a primary care physician or a pulmonologist — a doctor who specializes in respiratory conditions. There are three types of asthma medicine a physician may prescribe to a patient, depending on the symptoms and the patient's health history. These include long-term asthma medication, quick-relief or rescue medication, and asthma medicine to treat allergies that cause the condition.
Long-term asthma medicine is generally most effective when taken on a daily basis, and includes several types of drug therapy. Inhaled corticosteroids, the most common of these, works by reducing inflammation in the airways, preventing allergic responses, and prohibiting blood vessels from leaking fluid into airway tissues. Examples of inhaled corticosteroids include fluticasone, triamcinolone and flunisolide.
Long-acting beta-2 agonists (LABAs) are another common type of long-term asthma medicine. LABAs are a type of bronchodilator, which help to reduce inflammation and open up constricted airways in moderate to severe forms of asthma. They are generally used in conjunction with inhaled corticosteroids. Examples of this type of asthma medicine include salmeterol and formoterol.
Leukotriene modifiers, such as montelukast and zafirlukast, are a type of long-term asthma medicine that lessens the creation of, or blocks, the effects of leukotrienes, the substances produced by the immune system that can cause the symptoms of asthma. These medications may be used alone or in conjunction with inhaled steroids to prevent asthma attacks, especially in adults. Theophylline, a bronchodilator in pill form, can also be used in adults as a long-term asthma medicine, though it is especially helpful in relieving symptoms a patient may experience at night. Cromolyn and nedocromil are sometimes taken three to four times a day by patients with mild, persistent asthma. These long-term medications may be especially effective in reducing asthma attacks triggered by exercise or allergens.
Quick-relief, or rescue, asthma medications are short-acting bronchiodilators that may help to stop an asthma attack in progress. Short-acting beta-2 agonists (SABAs)— bronchiodilators that open the lungs by relaxing the airway muscles — usually begin working in minutes and last four to six hours. Popular types of SABAs include albuterol and pirbuterol. Ipratropium, another type of short-acting bronchiodilator, may be used in addition to, or instead of, SABAs and is usually prescribed for chronic bronchitis or emphysema. Oral corticosteroids, such as prednisone or hydrocortisone, may also be used for acute asthma attacks.
Asthma medicine to treat allergy triggers may also be prescribed. These include the anti-IgE monoclonal antibodies in drugs such as omalizumab, which are often used to help control severe persistent asthma that may be triggered by airborne allergens. Omalizumab is usually given by injection every two to four weeks. Also given by regularly scheduled therapeutic injections, immunotherapy is another type of asthma medication to treat allergy triggers. This is also an effective therapy, as it works by desensitizing the body to the allergens causing the asthma, by exposing the body to small doses of those allergens.