Health hotline: Variety of things can trigger asthma
There is often a link with allergies, say health specialists
Kim Raff, Deseret Morning News
The triggers for asthma run the gamut from the obvious to the odd not just secondhand smoke and cat fur and perfumes and pollen but vigorous laughing or a good cry. Anything that irritates the lungs can make a susceptible person wheeze or worse, explains respiratory therapist Valerie Morgan-Wallace.
Morgan-Wallace, along with Dr. Loren Greenway, director of the pulmonary medicine division at LDS Hospital, will field calls this morning as part of the Deseret Morning News/Intermountain Healthcare Hotline, from 10 a.m. to noon.
Not everybody who has allergies has asthma, and not everybody with asthma has allergies. But there's often a crossover. Pulmonary therapists recommend, for starters, trying to stay away from the things you know you're allergic to, or to "premedicate before you do the thing that causes you to be short of breath," Greenway advises. That can also include exercise.
Doctors often recommend that people with asthma get rid of their pets, "but most people don't accept that recommendation," he says. So the follow-up advice is "don't keep pets in your bedroom." Asthma can often flare up at night.
Symptoms include shortness of breath, chest tightness, coughing and wheezing but not necessarily all the symptoms at once. A person with asthma may just have one symptom, and sometimes, Morgan-Wallace says, the symptoms can be subtle. "Sometimes it's just clearing your throat all the time."
Asthma is a chronic inflammation of the air passageways. When an irritant is present dust, mold, cold air the muscles around the bronchial tubes go into spasms, which further narrows the airways and causes an attack.
It's not clear why asthma cases are on the rise, Greenway says. "We know it's on the rise in urbanized areas, which would point to pollution" as a cause. Other reasons for the increase include the increased use of chemicals in the home and in foods, as well as the incidence of children raised in homes where both parents smoke. Heredity also plays a role.
"But if it's treated effectively, it's beaten," he says. Some patients, however, fail to follow their doctor's treatment plan that includes short-acting bronchodilator and anti-inflammatory medications. "You ought to not have any of your activities of daily living precluded by your asthma," he says. "There are world-class athletes with asthma."The best way to differentiate asthma from a simple allergic reaction or something like bronchitis is to have a pulmonary function test, say Greenway and Morgan-Wallace.
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