Asthma is a chronic (long-lasting) lung disease in which the airways to the lungs are often swollen or inflamed. The airways are also sensitive to certain irritations or "triggers." An asthma trigger can be something you are allergic to such as pollen, animal dander, or dust. A trigger can also be an irritant such as tobacco smoke, cold air, or a cold virus. When the airways react to a trigger, the muscles around the airway tighten, and the lining swells and often produces thick mucus. This causes the airways to narrow and makes it harder to breathe. This is called an asthma attack. An asthma attack can be mild, moderate, or severe. When you are having an attack, you will usually need to take medicine to control the symptoms.
Asthma does not go away when you are not having symptoms. The airways are still inflamed. You need to have an Asthma Action Plan and close follow-up by a healthcare provider.
Symptoms of asthma come and go and may include:
Asthma can be a long-lasting disease, but asthma symptoms improve during the teenage years for more than half of young people who have asthma. Asthma attacks can be frightening, but they are treatable. When medicines are taken as directed, the symptoms can be controlled or completely clear up.
Quick-relief or rescue medicines
Quick-relief medicines, also called rescue medicines, quickly open your airways and are used when you are having an asthma attack. These medicines are also called relievers or bronchodilators.
If you are having asthma symptoms (wheezing, coughing, trouble breathing), take your quick-relief medicine, check your peak flow, and follow your Asthma Action Plan. If you have any doubt about whether you are wheezing, take your asthma medicine. The longer you wait to take the medicine, the longer it takes to stop the wheezing. Once you have started taking the medicine, keep taking the reliever according to the dose prescribed by your healthcare provider. (You may need to take the reliever medicine for several days.) The usual dose is 2 puffs every 4 hours as needed. Wait 1 minute between each puff. Always use a spacer.
Caution: if the inhaler hasn’t been used in over 7 days or is new, test spray it twice into the air before using it for treatment.
Long-term control medicine (controllers)
Long-term control medicines help keep the airways in your lungs from getting inflamed and irritated and help prevent asthma attacks. In addition to quick-relief medicines during asthma attacks, also continue the controller medicine. Teens with the following symptoms usually need to take controller medicines every day to allow them to participate in normal activities:
If you are recovering from a viral illness and need a few days to fully recover, you may need to avoid gym class or sports for a short time.
Another serious error is continuing to expose yourself to an avoidable cause of asthma. For example, do not keep a cat if you are allergic to it. Also, do not smoke or allow smoking in your home or car. Avoid social situations where you are exposed to smoke. When you are having an asthma attack, don't panic. Fear can make tight breathing worse, so try to remain calm.
Don't let asthma restrict your activities, sports, or social life. If your asthma symptoms are worsening and affecting your lifestyle, make an appointment to discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider. A change or increase in asthma medicines will help you gain better control of your asthma.
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