Asthma is caused by inflammation of the respiratory tract, hypersensitivity or convulsions of the trachea. Common symptoms include coughing and breathing difficulties. The disease is treated with both fast-acting and long-acting drugs that suppress inflammation and make it easier to breathe.
Appotek can advise and connect you with a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
However, if you or someone in your vicinity is suffocating, wheezing in the trachea or can only take superficial, quick breaths, you should seek emergency care and wait for an ambulance.
Asthma is a common, long-term inflammatory disease of the airways of the lungs. It is characterized by variable and recurring symptoms, reversible airflow obstruction and easily triggered bronchospasms.
The mucous membrane of the trachea swells while the muscles contract and cause cramps. Inflammation causes mucus to accumulate in the trachea and it becomes difficult to breathe.
There are different types of asthma and the symptoms may vary in intensity from person to person. Depending on the person, asthma symptoms may become worse at night or with exercise.
- prolonged cough, even at night
- increased mucus production
- heavy breathing and wheezing in the chest
- coughing and breathing difficulties triggered by, for example, physical exertion and pollen exposure
- recurrent, long-term respiratory infections.
In the case of asthma attacks or acute asthma, the problems become worse and can in some cases be life threatening. Then you get a deteriorated general condition and it is very difficult to breathe, especially if you lie down, talk or cough. Seizures are less common nowadays, thanks to today’s medicine, but when they still occur, medical care is needed.
Bear in mind that coughing and heavy breathing do not necessarily mean you have asthma. These are common symptoms even with a cold or flu.
Prolonged, asthma-like disorders in smokers or former smokers can be caused by COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). If you have a higher heart rate than usual, breathing problems and impaired fitness, it can also be a sign of heart failure or pulmonary embolism.
Asthma is caused by inflammation of the respiratory tract, hypersensitivity or convulsions of the trachea. The cause can be both allergic and non-allergic. Some people have chronic problems, while others are affected periodically in connection with pollen, for example. In cold asthma, the symptoms are limited to the period of infection. Respiratory tract infections, cold air, physical exertion and smoking can both cause and worsen asthma.
Prevention and Protection
The evidence for the effectiveness of measures to prevent the development of asthma is weak. We recommend decreasing risk factors such as tobacco smoke, air pollution, chemical irritants including perfume, and minimizing lower respiratory infections.
Pet exposure at a young age may be useful. Results from exposure to pets at other times are inconclusive and it is only recommended that pets be removed from the home, if a person has an allergic reaction to a pet.
Dietary restrictions during pregnancy or when breastfeeding have not been found to be effective in preventing asthma in children and so are not recommended. Reducing or eliminating compounds known to trigger asthma in sensitive people in the workplace, may be effective. It is not clear if annual influenza vaccinations affect the risk of exacerbations.
Acute asthma attacks require medical treatment with respiratory widening drugs, cortisone and oxygen.
To treat non-acute asthma, the doctor must first find out what causes asthma. An asthma study includes, among other things, a breath test (spirometry) that measures lung function and an allergy study that determines if asthma is due to allergy. Lung X-rays are also usually part of the investigation.
The disease picture can also be supplemented with an asthma control test (ACT) that shows how and when your symptoms are most troublesome. Then the doctor can also weigh in on your personal experiences that provide important information for choosing the right treatment.
The treatment usually consists of drugs in combination with information about the disease – the more you know about your asthma, the easier it will be to manage. Since many people with asthma have a high respiratory state and superficial breath, it can also be helpful to get help with breathing exercises by, for example, a physical therapist.
There are good tools that allow you to be involved in and influence your treatment yourself – partly in the form of the ACT self-assessment form, and partly with the help of a so-called PEF meter that shows your lung values in everyday life. PEF stands for Peak Expiratory Flow and is used to evaluate and adapt treatment over time.
Asthma is usually treated with both fast-acting and long-acting drugs that are often inhaled:
- Short-acting beta2-adrenoceptor agonists (SABA), such as salbutamol (albuterol USAN) are the first line treatment for asthma symptoms. They are recommended before exercise in those with exercise induced symptoms.
- Anticholinergic medications, such as ipratropium, provide additional benefit when used in combination with SABA in those with moderate or severe symptoms and may prevent hospitalizations.
- Corticosteroids are generally considered the most effective treatment available for long-term control. Inhaled forms such as beclomethasone are usually used except in the case of severe persistent disease, in which oral corticosteroids may be needed. It is usually recommended that inhaled formulations be used once or twice daily, depending on the severity of symptoms.
- Long-acting beta-adrenoceptor agonists (LABA) such as salmeterol and formoterol can improve asthma control, at least in adults, when given in combination with inhaled corticosteroids.
When to consult a doctor
If you suffer from heavy breathing and other asthma-like symptoms, you should contact your doctor – many have asthma without knowing it. If you or your child develop long-lasting infections or breathing problems or are unable to be active in everyday life, you should also seek medical care.
If you have asthma without getting sufficient relief from your asthma medication, you should consult your doctor.
Seek urgent care if you suddenly find it difficult to breathe, with or without an asthma diagnosis.
How APPOTEK can help
You can contact us at APPOTEK for help with asthma. A nurse or a physician can make an individual assessment based on your symptoms, after which you may be prescribed treatment or referred for further examination. Physical examination is required to make an asthma diagnosis. Bear in mind that if your child has a problem, they should see a doctor.
(Also remember to seek emergency care in the event of serious breathing difficulties – see “When to consult a doctor” above.)