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Health & Wellness

Asthma: The What and Why Behind the Wheeze

by Dr. Asma Khan

It isn’t always clear why some people have asthma and others don’t. However, what we do know is that it’s probably due to a combination of environment and genetics. Asthma can’t be cured, but its symptoms can be controlled.

Let’s talk about what asthma is, what triggers it, and how to prevent having an asthma attack.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a condition in which your airways narrow, swell, and produce extra mucus. This makes breathing difficult, and triggers coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. For some people, asthma is an annoyance, while for others, it can be a major issue that may lead to a life-threatening asthma attack.

What Triggers Asthma?

Exposure to certain irritants that make your allergies flare up can also trigger signs and symptoms of asthma. These triggers differ from person to person, but can include:

  • Airborne substances like pollen, dust mites, mold spores, or pet dander
  • Respiratory infections, including the common cold
  • Physical activity, also known as exercise-induced asthma
  • Exposure to cold air
  • Air pollutants and irritants, like smoke
  • Certain medications, including aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB), and naproxen (Aleve)
  • High levels of stress
  • Sulfites and preservatives in some types of foods, including shrimp, dried fruit, processed potatoes, beer, and wine
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (when acids back up into the throat)

Preventing an Asthma Attack

If you have asthma, working together with your doctor can help you live a healthy life with your condition, and prevent future asthma attacks.

  • Create an asthma action plan with your doctor for taking medications and managing attacks, and stick to your plan.
  • Stay current with your vaccinations to prevent flu and pneumonia.
  • Find out what causes or worsens your asthma, and take steps to avoid exposing yourself to those triggers.
  • Monitor your breathing with a home “peak flow meter,” and take note of any asthma attack warning signs, like coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath.
  • Identify and treat your attacks early, before they become more severe.

Asthma: What You Need to Know

Severe asthma attacks can be life-threatening, so work with your doctor to determine what to do when your signs and symptoms worsen. If your coughing or wheezing increases, you don’t find improvement after using an inhaler, or you are short of breath after doing minimal activity, you may need emergency treatment. Talk with your doctor if you think you have asthma, if your symptoms get worse after you’ve been diagnosed, or to review your treatment plan.

Asthma changes over time, so remember to meet with your doctor regularly to discuss your symptoms, and stay in good health!

Asma Khan, MD, is the Clinical Director at HRHCare Urgent Care, 84 N Highland Ave between High Ave and Sickles Ave in Nyack. Along with offices in Haverstraw and Spring Valley, the facility is part of the 28 health center HRHCare network in the Hudson Valley and Long Island providing comprehensive primary care.

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