Lungs and Breathing

Causes and treatments for asthma

medication and drugs for asthma

More than 25 million Americans have asthma, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. The condition causes a swelling and narrowing of the airways, which in turn blocks or slows the flow of air from your nose and mouth to your lungs. 

Patients with asthma can experience a variety of symptoms during an asthma attack, from coughing and wheezing to a feeling of tightness in the chest or difficulty breathing according to Pedro R. Villanueva, M.D., an internal medicine provider with Riverside Primary Care Norge.

Understanding asthma triggers

People with asthma can usually link their asthma episodes to specific external triggers — an irritant or activity they’re sensitive to — that lead their airways to swell.

Common asthma triggers include the following:

  • Allergens, such as molds, pollens, pet dander, cockroach droppings and dust mites
  • Air-quality factors, including exposure to outdoor air pollution, secondhand smoke or smoke from burning wood or grass
  • Strenuous physical exertion, especially in patients with exercise-induced asthma
  • Changes in weather, since cooler air can further irritate airways
  • Sulfites in food or drinks, including certain beers, wines, dried fruits, processed potatoes and fresh or frozen shrimp
  • Stress or anxiety, which can cause — or worsen — asthma symptoms

Treating asthma symptoms

Unfortunately, there is no cure for asthma. However, by working with your doctor, you can develop an asthma treatment plan to make your symptoms manageable.

Avoiding triggers

The first step in managing asthma is to identify your own personal asthma triggers and avoid them as much as possible.

“We encourage patients to keep a log of their asthma attacks — including dates and triggers —so that we can work with them to create a customizable asthma action plan that targets their specific needs,” says Dr. Villanueva.

Quick-relief medicines

Many asthma patients are prescribed inhalers of quick-relief medications such as albuterol or levalbuterol to use when their asthma symptoms flare.

These bronchodilators relax muscles in the airways, allowing increased airflow to the lungs. They can be used just before exposure to a potential trigger — such as exercise or contact with pet dander or pollen — to prevent an asthma attack. Alternatively, they can be used immediately after unexpected exposure to reduce the severity of oncoming asthma symptoms.

Long-term control medications

In addition to quick-relief inhalers, some patients with more severe asthma may also require daily medications to keep their symptoms in check. Long-term control medications can help patients have fewer, milder asthma attacks. These could include:

  • Inhaled corticosteroids
  • Leukotriene modifiers 
  • Long-acting beta agonists

Allergy treatments

If your asthma attacks tend to be allergen-induced, your primary care physician may also refer you to an allergy specialist. Adding weekly allergy shots to your treatment regimen can offer another means of reducing your asthma symptoms.

Seeking treatment

If you are newly experiencing asthma symptoms — or if you are a longtime asthma patient whose symptoms are worsening — talk to your health care provider about ways to manage your attacks. You can also schedule an appointment online with a Riverside primary care provider. 

“We have an array of options in our arsenal for treating and managing asthma,” says Dr. Villanueva. “With a proper asthma action plan in place, patients can enjoy full and active lives.”

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