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Asthma is a disease that causes swelling and blockage of the airways that bring air from the nose and mouth to the lungs.

What causes asthma?

We do not know what causes asthma but it tends to run in families that also have hay fever and eczema. You can get asthma at any age. You do not "catch" asthma, but infections can make your asthma worse or cause an asthma attack. Asthma is a chronic condition that you will probably have for the rest of your life.

What are the symptoms of an asthma attack?

Difficulty breathing is usually the first symptom of asthma. You might hear a wheezing or whistling sound as you breathe in and out. Sometimes asthma can make you cough, feel short of breath, or have a tight feeling in your chest.

What causes an asthma attack?

Airway irritants, infections, or things you are allergic to can cause asthma attacks. Things that might cause an asthma attack include:

Animal dander drugs (especially aspirin) pollens
Cleaning products dust mites air pollution
Cigarettes exercise second-hand smoke
Cigars and pipes fatigue some foods
Cold air molds viral infections (colds and flu)

What happens during an asthma attack?

When your lungs are exposed to irritants, the muscles around the airways get tight. This narrows the airways. The linings inside the airways swell and the airways become even smaller. These linings also produce extra mucus, which clogs the airways even more. Is there a cure for asthma?

There is no cure for asthma but you can control your symptoms. By avoiding things that cause asthma attacks and using your medicines as directed you can lead a normal active life.

What can I do to control my asthma?

DO NOT SMOKE. Avoid second-hand smoke.
Keep a record of your symptoms and what causes them.
Avoid things that have caused an asthma attack in the past. This includes foods, food additives, pets and other animals, pollens, grasses, molds and dust. Stay indoors when the pollen counts are high or when there is a lot of air pollution.
Stay away from things that irritate your airways, like smoke and fumes.
Do not use household cleaning products that might cause breathing problems.
If you are allergic to cats or dogs, do not keep them in your home. At least keep them out of your bedroom. Bathe your cat or dog weekly in warm water. Cat dander often causes an asthma attack. Dander will stay in the house for months, even after you remove the cat.
Wash all your bedding -- sheets, blankets, and covers -- in very hot water every week. This kills many of the dust mites that live in the bedding. Dust mites are one of the most likely causes of asthma attacks.
Use only washable blankets and bedspreads (avoid wool and feathers or down).
Use foam or polyester-filled pillows, not feathers or down.
Use plastic casings on your mattress and pillows.
Remove stuffed animals and other dust collectors from your bedroom.
Use wooden or plastic furniture, not upholstered furniture.
Use blinds or washable curtains, not draperies.
Get rid of carpets and use washable cotton throw rugs.
Clean, dust and damp mop weekly.
Replace or clean your furnace and air-conditioner filters regularly.
If you have hay fever or sinus problems, keep them under control. Hay fever and sinus problems can make your asthma worse.

How do I know if my asthma is under control?

Get a peak-flow meter to measure how well you are breathing. By measuring your ability to exhale, a peak-flow meter can help you tell if your asthma is under control. Your health-care provider will show you how to use a peak-flow meter and help you figure out your normal peak-flow reading. If your peak-flow readings are normal, your asthma is under control. Your peak-flow will be less than normal when your asthma is getting worse, even before you begin to wheeze or feel short of breath. Use your peak-flow meter regularly and keep a record of your readings. This will let you and your health-care provider know if you need to increase your medicines.

What medicines are used to treat asthma?

Many different inhalers and pills are used to treat asthma. Inhalers work faster and usually have fewer side effects. Inhalers are medicines that you breathe into your lungs as you spray them through your mouth. The most important asthma medicines are the "anti-inflammatories"-- cromolyn, nedocromil and corticosteroids. These medicines, called preventers, help decrease the inflammation and mucus in your airways. People who have asthma can prevent asthma attacks by using these inhalers several times every day.

Other medicines called "bronchodilators"-- albuterol and salmeterol -- relax the muscles around the airways during an asthma attack. When the muscles are relaxed, the airways become larger and allow more space for the air to move in and out. These medicines, called relievers, can help relieve the symptoms of an asthma attack. If you can keep your asthma under control with the anti-inflammatory drugs, the relievers might only be needed in emergencies.

You can take some preventers and relievers in pill form. To keep your asthma under control you might need to use a combination of pills and inhalers.

This material is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for the medical advice of your doctor or any other health care professional. Always consult with your physician if you are in any way concerned about your health.

© 2003-2005 SLPM Self care Ltd.

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