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An asthma attack can literally leave you gasping for breath, so having treatments that relax your airways is critical.
Asthma strikes nearly 8% of Americans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so if you have asthma, you are not alone. A chronic condition, asthma occurs when the airways become inflamed and narrow, which hinders airflow.
"The prevention of asthma as a condition is quite difficult. What you can prevent is the frequency and severity of attacks by the use of regular treatment," Dr. John Costello, a pulmonologist at Mayo Clinic Healthcare in London, said in a recent article.
Here, experts discuss the most common asthma treatments that physicians use when creating an individualized treatment plan.
Non-medication treatments for asthma
Your physician will work with you to develop an individualized treatment plan. It is important to follow this plan diligently and check in with your physician regularly.
Because asthma is triggered by many things in the environment, one of the most important treatments for asthma does not involve medication, but rather awareness of what those triggers are. It is important for you to keep a journal in which you record when you have an attack and what triggered it. By noticing what your individual triggers are, you are more prepared to avoid them in the future. According to the Allergy & Asthma Network, some common triggers are:
- Hot or cold air
- Pet dander, dust, pollen, perfumes, smoke
- Laughing or crying
- Colds or viruses
Asthma treatment may also include lifestyle changes. If you smoke, it will be essential for you to quit, according to the American Lung Association. Medications to help with quitting may be part of your treatment plan. In addition, obese patients are more likely to experience asthma symptoms than the general public, the CDC says. Losing weight can be an essential part of controlling asthma.
Keep a journal:
In addition to recording triggers and attacks, keep a record of each time you use your quick relief (rescue) inhaler. One sign of well-controlled asthma is using the rescue inhaler two times a week or less, according to Mount Sinai. If you find your attacks increasing and you are using your quick relief inhaler more often, you should make an appointment with your doctor to review your treatment plan.
A peak-flow meter, an instrument that gauges how well you breathe, can also be a valuable tool in controlling asthma. If you use this regularly and report the results to your physician, it helps the doctor evaluate how well the treatments are working, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of American says.
There are two main categories of medications in the asthma treatment arsenal; long-term (control medications), and quick-acting (rescue medications).
Long-term medications are ones that are taken every day as a way to control asthma, the Mayo Clinic says. The goal of these medications is to prevent asthma attacks. These reduce airway inflammation and prevent the airways from narrowing.
These quick-acting medications are used in the event of an attack, or when you feel an attack coming on. These include an inhaler that you should carry with you at all times, and can include other medications that may help in the event of an attack.
While inhalation therapy is the treatment of choice, people with severe asthma may need corticosteroids, which can be given either by IV or orally, Costello said.
According to Costello, “if the patient's not responding, then admission to the hospital [is needed] to make sure that these medicines are administered efficiently."
It is very important not to change how you take your medications without checking with your physician first.
Surgical treatment for asthma
In the case of severe asthma, surgery may be an option.
For many with severe asthma, medications don't work, with research published recently in the journal Science Translational Medicine suggesting that two natural substances that stimulate cell proliferation activate in the airways of severe asthma patients when they inhale corticosteroids and block the medications from working.
According to the Mayo Clinic, bronchial thermoplasty, usually done over three sessions, is used in patients with severe asthma who have failed medical treatments. It is not for everyone and is not available everywhere. The physician heats the inside of the lung to destroy the smooth muscles which limits the ability of the lung tissue to tighten. This may make it easier to breathe and decreases the incidence of asthma attacks.
While asthma is a chronic illness, you and your physician can create an individualized treatment plan that can give you the best possible control over your asthma.
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