Asthma is a chronic and serious lung disease. Even though asthma-related deaths are few and far between they can occur – sometimes suddenly and without early warning symptoms.
Despite the many tools and medications that are available today to help a person with asthma manage their disease, we still don’t know the exact cause(s) of asthma and there is no cure.
Our lungs are different from most of the other organs in our body because their delicate tissues are directly connected to the outside environment.
Anything you breathe in can affect your lungs. Germs, tobacco smoke and other harmful substances can cause damage to your airways and threaten the lungs ability to work properly.
With asthma, the airways are often swollen and red (or inflamed). This makes them extra sensitive to things that you are exposed to in the environment every day, or asthma “triggers.” A trigger could be a cold, the weather, or things in the environment, such as dust, chemicals, smoke and pet dander.
When someone with asthma breathes in a trigger, the insides of the airways make extra mucus and swell even more. This narrows the space for the air to move in and out of the lungs.
The muscles that wrap around your airways can also tighten, making breathing even harder. When that happens, it’s called an asthma flare-up, asthma episode or asthma “attack.”
If you know a person with asthma — a friend, family member, or co-worker — witnessing that person having an asthma attack can be frightening. What can you do to help? How can you recognize when the situation is serious enough to seek emergency help?
If your loved one has been diagnosed with asthma, they should have in their possession a quick-relief treatment device — either an inhaler or nebulizer.
Asthma symptoms that should be treated include:
• Shortness of breath
• Cough, wheeze or chest tightness
• Problems working, playing or sleeping — a person experiencing symptoms may assume a hunched-over position and seem unusually anxious or withdrawn
If your loved one appears to be experiencing any of these symptoms, check with them to make sure they have taken their quick-relief treatment. Help them to sit upright, remain calm, and breathe slowly and deeply.
Once the quick-relief treatment has been given, your loved one should begin to improve within 15 minutes. If he or she has not returned to normal within one hour, they should take the quick relief treatment again.
If the symptoms persist, call a physician or healthcare provider.
The following symptoms can be dangerous.
• Lots of problems breathing
• Getting worse instead of better
• Medicine is not helping
• Trouble walking/talking due to shortness of breath
• Lips or fingernails are blue
• Coughs constantly
• Is unable to speak in complete sentences without taking a breath
• Is vomiting persistently
• Is severely restless
• Shows no improvement after 15 minutes following quick-relief treatment
If these symptoms occur, go to the hospital or call for an ambulance.
If you are a person living with asthma, or if you are a friend, family member or co-worker of someone who has asthma, the American Lung Association is here to help. ALA offers information and resources on line and via telephone.
Please take a moment to learn more about asthma by participating in our new online learning module, Asthma Basics. You can access this educational tool by visiting our website at www.lungusa.org.
The American Lung Association also has a toll free HelpLine that is staffed by nurses and respiratory therapists with multilingual capabilities. Our service is free and available as often as you need. We are here to help you. Call Us: 1-800-LUNGUSA (586-4872)
Asthma is a serious health problem. Without proper treatment, asthma can be extremely dangerous, even fatal.
The good news is that it can be successfully treated. People with asthma can live normal, productive lives.
It’s important to find a health care provider that you trust and feel comfortable visiting on a regular basis. Your health care provider will work with you to help you manage your disease.