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May 12, 2015
May is National Asthma Awareness Month: What You Should Know


Asthma is a chronic condition, which means there is no cure, and it can start at any age.  We are not really sure what causes asthma.  Genetics, allergies, respiratory, infections, and the environment may play a role in the development of asthma.  Asthma can certainly be serious, but people with asthma can learn to manage their asthma and asthma symptoms to live normal, healthy lives.


When  people breathe air into their lungs, the air travels through branching tubes called airways.  For people with asthma, these airways are more sensitive.  Contact with an asthma “trigger” may cause the airway to become irritated.  This irritation can cause swelling and narrowing of the airway.  The airways may produce more phlegm, and the muscles around the airways may also tighten.  All this make it more difficult to breathe air in and out of the lungs.  This causes asthma symptoms such as wheezing or noisy breathing, coughing, shortness of breath, or tightness in the chest.  Many people have specific symptoms that they are aware of when their asthma flares up.


Triggers are different for different people, so it is important to identify your asthma triggers.  You can do this by discussing your asthma and asthma symptoms with your healthcare provider.   Allergy tests may also help identify some triggers.


Try to avoid asthma triggers.  Remember, triggers may be different for different people, and certain triggers may be unavoidable.  Work with your doctor to make a plan on how to manage exposure to triggers such as exercise.

MEDICATIONS – Treatment and Prevention

Asthma medicines come in many forms: Inhalers, liquids and pills.  It is important to understand how your asthma medicines work to treat your asthma and asthma symptoms.

QUICK RELIEF (RESCUE) MEDICINES – treatment of asthma symptoms

These medicines work by relaxing the muscles that surround the airways, helping open them up and making it easier to breathe and cough up phlegm.  Quick relief medicines can reduce asthma symptoms, make breathing easier.

*** Talk with your doctor about the maximum amount of quick relief medications you should take if they are prescribed as needed.

LONG-TERM (CONTROLLER) MEDICINES- prevention of flare-ups and disease-related damage

Usually taken one or two times daily (inhaled steroids and or long-acting beta agonists (LABAs) These medicines usually work by reducing inflammation; they work to prevent asthma symptoms and manage the chronic airway changes that are present in people who have asthma.  These medicines also help prevent lung damage from occurring.  It is important to take these medications regularly.  Do not take extra doses of controller (everyday medicines) unless specifically directed by your doctor.


Leukotriene modifiers (pill), Steroids (pill or IV), Omalizumab (Solair)– a shot that can help asthma caused by allergies if your asthma does not respond to other medicines.


Monitor your symptoms or check your airways using a peak flow meter, which provides early detection of asthma flare-ups by measuring changes in airflow.  These changes can occur before you have asthma symptoms.  Monitoring airflow can alert you to take asthma medicines earlier to help avoid asthma flare-ups and symptoms.

Talk with your healthcare provider to create an Asthma Action Plan.

This is a plan which you create with your provider to help manage your asthma.  An asthma management plan can include:

REMEMBER: Don’t ever hesitate to call 911 if your asthma symptoms are severe or not responding to the treatment plan.

Successful Asthma Management Includes:

Get more information here:



  1. Medline University 2013.  Asthma Awareness MU Patient Education Series.  Disorders and Diagnosis.  Asthma Awareness.  Accessed April 1, 2015.
  2. Doctors and Editors at UpToDate. Patient information: Asthma in adults (The Basics).  Accessed April 1, 2015. 
  3. Bailey,W., Apter A. What do patients need to know about their asthma?  Accessed:  April 1, 2014. 
  4. American Lung Association. Learning More about Asthma. Accessed:  April 4, 2015.
  5. American Lung Association. Creating Asthma-Friendly Environments.  Accessed April 4, 2015. 

Amy Hogan is a respiratory therapist at Harrington HealthCare, working primarily in the new Remillard Family Emergency Department in Webster. Since 2003, she has been an adjunct faculty member for Quinsigamond Community College. Amy is pursuing her master’s degree in educational technology.