Inside the Asthma Guide: A Doctor's Tour

From the WebMD Archives

Paul EnrightNot sure where to start? Dr. Enright, asthma and allergy specialist, helps you navigate WebMD's comprehensive and up-to-date Asthma Guide so you can live and breathe easier.

Do you have asthma? Maybe a family member or a friend has asthma. More than 22 million Americans have asthma today, a number that continues to climb.

In the 25 years since my allergy and pulmonary fellowships in Denver, Colorado, treating people with asthma and working on asthma research studies, I have come to understand how asthma affects daily life for both the patient and family. While the doctor gives you asthma medication and other tools to deal with your breathing problems, you must learn all you can about your asthma to self-manage it on a day-to-day basis. Taking care of your asthma now will allow you to live a healthy, active life for years to come. So I've personally been involved in creating WebMD's Asthma Guide.

At WebMD, we provide you with the most comprehensive, up-to-the minute health information. Our team constantly updates our physician-reviewed information with the latest findings on asthma and other related health conditions. We urge you to return frequently to the Asthma Guide for the latest medical discoveries and breakthroughs.

If you have asthma, your goal is to control it with minimal medication side effects. Control will come from following the asthma medication regimen your doctor prescribes, avoiding asthma triggers, preventing exercise-induced asthma so that you can exercise regularly, eating nutritional foods, and following a written asthma action plan. This knowledge and the written plan will allow you to be more relaxed as you follow the appropriate actions to quickly treat an asthma attack. If you're a caregiver to someone with asthma, your goal is to feel informed and confident as you support your loved one. Our goal is to provide the most thorough and up-to-date medical information to help you and your loved ones live well and thrive with asthma. Let's get started:

Overview & Facts

Recently diagnosed with asthma? Then start now to learn asthma basics, so you can understand the inflammation in your airways. Asthma is a chronic lung disease, meaning it's going to be around long-term, unlike a cold that lasts a week. Maybe you're wondering what caused your asthma in the first place. Finding out about asthma causes and the risk factors for asthma is the first step in asthma prevention. In addition, if you have kids, we know you want to keep them healthy. Take time now to learn about asthma in children, a serious and growing problem in the United States.

Symptoms & Types

Worried that you might have asthma symptoms? Surprisingly, sometimes a chronic cough is the only symptom of asthma, called cough-variant asthma. Learn more about asthma symptoms, such as wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath, so you can talk openly with your doctor to see if you need asthma tests to confirm the diagnosis. Many people with allergies also have asthma or develop asthma in adulthood. If you have asthma and allergies, keeping your nose and sinuses clear by avoiding smoke, taking a non-sedating antihistamine every day during allergy season, and, in some cases, getting allergy shots may also help to control your asthma. Some people only get asthma symptoms during exercise, called exercise-induced asthma. Many people with asthma also suffer from sinusitis or from heartburn, common asthma triggers. No matter what you feel, if you learn all about asthma attacks and unusual asthma symptoms, you can try to recognize these signs early on and administer treatment when it's most effective.

Diagnosis & Tests

Before you take any asthma medication, you want to be certain that the diagnosis of asthma is correct. If you haven't had one already, an asthma test can help confirm that you have asthma. You may also want to confirm that the asthma treatments prescribed are actually making a measurable difference. That's why pulmonary function tests (lung function) are so important—so if you are diagnosed with asthma, you can take the proper steps to self-manage your asthma every day.

Treatment & Self-Care

If you're unsure about using the asthma treatments your doctor prescribed, you should learn more about them – how they work, how to tell if they are effective, what side-effects you may experience, and what other treatments are available. Although some asthma medications are pills, the mainstay medications are "asthma puffers" or asthma inhalers – either anti-inflammatory drugs or bronchodilators (airway openers). Many people don't use their inhalers correctly, so they don't get optimal relief from chest tightness or coughing. Make sure you're using your asthma inhalers correctly. And know when to turn to an asthma nebulizer (breathing machine) to treat an asthma attack.

Inhaled anti-inflammatory drugs (asthma controllers) are the foundation of preventive treatment for most people with asthma. Some people also need a long-acting bronchodilator to help keep their airways open. You will also need some "rescue inhalers," or short-term asthma relievers, which work within a few minutes to relieve asthma symptoms. When your airways are relaxed and open, air can flow in and out of your lungs more easily.

No matter what medication your doctor prescribes -- anti-inflammatory drugs, bronchodilators, or prednisone -- it's important to stay on the asthma medication for as long as prescribed. Also, ask your doctor to write up an asthma action plan to help you understand and manage your asthma every day. Make sure your child has an asthma action plan, and talk to your child's teachers about bringing asthma medications to school.

Day-to-Day Living

Self-managing asthma can be challenging, especially if you are busy juggling careers, kids, or other commitments. That's why knowledge is power in living with asthma. Learn more about the basics of asthma and diet. Discover how exercising with asthma can help increase your endurance and help keep you fit. Also, learn about finding asthma support, so you can manage stress and anxiety and reduce your asthma symptoms. There are answers, and WebMD’s Asthma Guide provides them for you.

You are sure to have more questions, even after reading our Asthma Guide. There are two asthma message boards on WebMD. At my asthma message board, I answer questions once or twice a week. Patients and parents with lots of experience with asthma can respond very quickly to your questions on WebMD's Asthma Support Group. In addition, I've found some excellent information on asthma from online asthma organizations.

For example, see the latest guidelines on the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma from the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (written by experts from the United States). While the report is lengthy, you can read small sections or do a search for specific terms such as "inhaled corticosteroids" or "asthma management." The "Crashing Asthmatic," provided by the American Family Physician, describes the signs, symptoms, and emergency treatment of a patient with a severe asthma attack (called status asthmaticus) who deteriorates into respiratory failure despite initial treatment. Understanding the early warning signs can allow you to seek immediate help for yourself or a loved one when treatment is most effective.

If you are planning to get pregnant, it's important to understand how pregnancy can affect your asthma. In addition, the National Jewish Medical and Research Center provides a wealth of information on living with asthma during pregnancy, managing asthma during labor and delivery, and breast feeding when you have asthma. If your infant or toddler suffers with asthma, check out the information provided by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation on asthma in infants. You can learn why some young children are more susceptible to breathing problems. Also, take your older child on a virtual stroll through the streets of Breatherville USA™ provided by the Allergy and Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics, and learn strategies to control asthma at home, school, and in the neighborhood.

Consider participating in The American Lung Association’s Asthma Walk, a nationwide effort to bring attention to the devastating effects of asthma in the U.S. Check out the National Allergy Bureau’s current pollen and mold spore levels, provided by the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (also known as the quad A I). You can find the most accurate and reliable pollen and mold counts, plus tips for dealing with outdoor allergens.

So, read on. Learn, and breathe well with asthma!

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