Asthma is a chronic lung disease that usually begins in childhood, although it can affect people of all ages. In the United States alone, over 25 million individuals have been diagnosed with asthma, and 7 million of them are children.
For people with asthma, it is a common scenario to experience recurring episodes of wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Although it is a highly manageable condition for many, especially those who have experiences from others, asthma attacks may be life-threatening, which is why it is best to know when to seek medical attention when an attack occurs.
Understanding how asthma works
Before anything else, it is important to know how asthma works and how it affects the body. Asthma is a lung condition that particularly affects the airways or bronchial tubes, which are responsible for the passage of air in and out of the lungs. People who are suffering from asthma have inflamed airways, which will become even more swollen since they are very sensitive to certain triggers. The swelling in the airways allows the muscles around them to tighten, thus causing the asthma symptoms.
Although asthma commonly occurs in children, it may also develop even in healthy people during exercise, which is known as exercise-induced asthma. People who also have a family history of asthma or allergies are more likely to develop asthma known as allergic asthma.
How asthma is diagnosed
If you or your child experiences any of the common symptoms of asthma, it is best to consult your doctor to better diagnose your condition. To diagnose asthma, your doctor may ask for your personal and medical history, which includes current physical problems and previous medical conditions, history of allergies, family history of asthma, and even the condition of your home or work environment that may be worsening your symptoms. A physical examination, which might include an X-ray of your lungs or sinuses, will also take place.
Aside from these, your doctor may require certain lung function tests to be performed, such as spirometry, peak airflow meter, and trigger tests. These diagnostic procedures measure one's breathing and lung function, which will confirm the presence of asthma.
What to do during an attack
Once you have been diagnosed, your doctor will work out a step-by-step treatment plan for you to follow once asthma symptoms occur. If your asthma starts acting up, immediately follow these steps and wait for your symptoms to subside and your peak expiratory flow to improve. Once they do, home treatment may be all you need. This treatment may include instructions on how to use your quick-acting rescue inhaler, which is supposed to instantly relieve your symptoms.
When to seek emergency medical attention
Although you will be educated on how to effectively manage your asthma symptoms, you may need emergency medical treatment if you experience a serious asthma attack, which can manifest severe wheezing or breathlessness that may even disable you to speak, straining of the chest muscles during breathing, low peak flow readings, and no relief after using a rescue inhaler.
Lung functions tests will also be used in checking the severity of an asthma attack during emergency cases. Aside from these, your doctor will be regularly monitoring the amount of oxygen in your blood with the use of pulse oximetry. This procedure uses a pulse oximeter and SpO2 sensors to instantly determine the patient's blood oxygen levels during a severe asthma attack.
Although there is no known cure for asthma, its symptoms can be easily controlled with the right treatment and prevention habits. With good asthma control, patients can still go on to live a completely normal, healthy life.