Asthma - A Personal Reflection

I wanted to write about asthma, because my friend from college and medical school just died from this disease on June 17th. It can be controlled and its exacerbations can be prevented. However, you must not believe that asthma is harmless or only affects children. Asthma is a killer and greatly impacts the quality of life and sometimes quantity of life.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that causes the breathing tubes that go from the nose to the lungs, or bronchials, to be inflamed, clogged with mucous or inflammatory cells and narrow. Once these tubes are narrowed, it is like breathing through a straw. Asthma can then cause wheezing during breathing, coughing and a sense of breathlessness. Without treatment, asthma can lead to hospitalization or death.

How common is asthma?

There are about 25 million people in the United States that suffer from asthma. It is the most common chronic condition in children. Women are more likely to get asthma compared to men. African-Americans are only slightly more likely to be asthmatic compared to their White counterparts, however, African-Americans are three times more likely to either be hospitalized or die from Asthma without treatment. A similar pattern is seen in Hispanics, particularly Hispanics who are Puerto-Ricans. If your parents have asthma, you are more likely to have asthma.

What is asthma’s impact?

Approximately 25 percent of emergency room visits are because of asthma. It is the leading cause of children missing school and the fourth leading cause of adults missing work. It is estimated that every day 1 out of 9 people die from asthma.

Can asthma be prevented?

The majority of these deaths could be prevented using a rescue inhaler or by controlling symptoms with a long term control medication such as an inhaler or nebulizer. Asthma can be triggered by outside components causing allergic reactions or irritations of the breathing tubes. Exposure to chemicals and irritants at work, home; second hand tobacco smoke; cold or night air; exercise or stress can trigger asthma attacks.

Can asthma be controlled?

Yes, if you think that you suffer from asthma symptoms, do not wait until you have to go to the emergency room. Get tested by your primary care physician. Your physician will ask you screening questions; examine your breathing by listening to your chest and will conduct a breathing test using a peak flow meter and a spirometer. You may be asked to get a chest xray as well. If you have symptoms of asthma, because your breathing tubes are inflamed and narrowed, the rate of flow when you breath out or expire is reduced and can be measured. You can then be given a short dose of a aerosolized medication, called albuterol. Albuterol quickly relaxes the muscles in the breathing tubes and causes them to open. Once enlarged, your flow of breathing should get faster and your symptoms improve. Your provider should demonstrate the proper way to use an inhaler or a nebulizer in order to receive the medications.

Important:

1) If you have asthma..Always carry an up to date rescue inhaler such as albuterol in your pocket or purse. It can save your life. Your provider needs to go over with you the danger symptoms. Know your triggers and how to avoid certain pollutants and chemicals.

2) If you are using your albuterol inhaler more than twice a week- you MUST have additional long term medications to reduce inflammation. An inhaler with a long term corticosteroid is crucial as the next step.

3) If your asthma is not controlled with these two medications, insist on going to an asthma specialist for additional medications.

Rest in peace, my friend. You are still impacting the health of others.

Sources:

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Asthma in the US. Vitals Signs. May 2011.

Information About Asthma, Allergies and Food. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

Asthma and African-Americans- The Office of Minority Health

Asthma and Hispanic Americans- The Office of Minority Health

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