Feature Archive

Managing Asthma

WebMD Feature

May 8, 2000 -- Nothing can be more frightening than feeling as if you can't breathe. And that is exactly what happens during a severe asthma attack. While a sudden, unexplained attack often leads to a trip to the emergency room -- where asthma is then diagnosed -- persistent symptoms, such as coughing and wheezing, should tip off a parent or doctor to test for the disease.

If a child is very young when a diagnosis is made, he or she may be too young to understand what is happening -- much less remember to use their inhalers once diagnosed -- so parents need to pay attention to a daily treatment regimen to prevent attacks, as well as be on the lookout for signs of a sudden flare-up.

There are two main types of asthma medication: one for preventing attacks, another for on-the-spot treatment when the disease flares up.

Anti-inflammatory inhalers are used frequently to prevent asthma attacks. These are usually based on steroid compounds, and current research indicates that steroids offer the best long-term treatment, although there are non-steroid medications available as well. Most people under treatment use inhalers every day, often more than once, in order to inhibit swelling of the airway tissues. It is important to follow the exact management plan defined by the doctor.

For sudden episodes that can be brought on by a host of environmental triggers, doctors recommend also keeping bronchodilators on hand to rapidly open the airways. These are considered rescue medications, and using them frequently may indicate the need to modify a patient's anti-inflammatory medication or consider a higher dosage.