DR. CHRISTY PROSE: Asthma: Pediatric and adult
Asthma affects nearly 20 million Americans, both young and old. In both pediatric and adult-onset cases, asthma symptoms can affect your quality of life or restrict your activity.
With proper treatment, however, individuals with asthma can lead a healthy, normal life.
For both children and adults, asthma is characterized by inflammation of the airways leading to the lungs, which makes it difficult to breathe. The airways also might create an excess of thick mucus clogging the airway passage or might become constricted because of contracting muscles.
When people with asthma experience a major flare-up that includes extreme difficulty breathing, it is called an asthma attack. Asthma often is accompanied by wheezing and coughing, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest and difficulty sleeping.
Generally, asthma is associated with allergies, but there are several other factors that can lead to an asthma diagnosis. For children, asthma can be genetic if is prevalent in the family history. If several family members are diagnosed with asthma, it is important to have children examined by their physician even if they are not showing signs or symptoms. Pollution, cleaning products and other environmental and household irritants can cause asthma or make the condition worse.
Adult-onset asthma might be caused by environmental irritants, a virus or illness, such as the flu, obesity or hormonal changes during pregnancy or menopause. Both children and adults can experience exercise-induced asthma, a type of asthma in which symptoms become worse due to physical labor or exercise.
While both pediatric and adult-onset asthma function similarly, adults tend to experience symptoms more frequently, while children’s symptoms might come and go. This is due to a lower lung capacity in adults caused by changes in the muscles in the chest walls after middle age.
Diagnosis for asthma can be as simple as a breathing test to check lung capacity. A physician also might order an allergy test or a chest X-ray to check for additional diseases or factors that might be causing asthmatic symptoms. Once tested, there are several classifications that determine the severity of the asthma diagnosis. Cases can range from mild intermittent, in which symptoms only occur once or twice a week, to severe persistent, in which symptoms are continuous.
While there is no cure for asthma, with proper medication and precautions it can be controlled. Depending on the severity of the diagnosis, medications prescribed by a physician might only be used during a flare-up or might require a daily maintenance dosage.
In severe cases, without proper medication, an asthma attack can be life threatening. It is important to seek immediate treatment from a physician when experiencing asthmatic symptoms or asthmatic episodes, such as shortness of breath or difficulties breathing. A physician might prescribe an inhaler to be used during physical exercise to reduce breathing difficulties.
Along with proper medication, there are several ways to improve quality of life, reduce symptoms and return to normal activities, which include:
>> Stop smoking or avoid cigarette smoke.
>> Try walking, hiking or biking rather than strenuous aerobic exercise.
>> Wear a scarf in cold weather.
>> Avoid exercising in extreme cold or dry weather, or high-pollution days.
>> Keep a clean home, free of dust mites and pet dander.
If you are experiencing symptoms associated with asthma visit your physician to discuss a personalized treatment plan.