Asthma – Diagnosis and Management

Asthma – Diagnosis and Management

Asthma is a respiratory condition where the airways of your lungs constrict as they swell up and produce excessive mucus. It is characterized by symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, wheezing, and uncontrollable coughing. The exact cause of asthma isn’t clear yet, however experts suggest that it could be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

The severity of asthma varies across patients. For some, it could be an occasional problem, but for some individuals it could be challenging as it tends to interfere in their routine, thereby affecting the quality of their life. In some situations, a sudden asthmatic attack could prove to be life-threatening, therefore, it is essential to follow an action plan to handle it effectively.

Diagnosis of asthma
The doctor will start by inquiring about your symptoms and conduct a physical exam to rule out other health conditions such as respiratory infections or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). The doctor will recommend diagnostic tests such as spirometry and peak flow to determine how much air travels inside and outside the lungs while you breathe. Such lung function tests are usually done before and after consuming a medicine known as a bronchodilator to open up the airway passages in the lungs. If your respiratory functions improve after using a bronchodilator, then it indicates that you might be suffering from asthma.

Based on the results of the lung function tests, the doctor might suggest you with some additional diagnostic procedures such as X-ray, CT scan, allergy testing, sputum eosinophils, methacholine challenge, nitric oxide test, and provocative testing for exercise and cold-induced asthma.

Management of asthma
For preventing asthmatic attacks, an effective long-term treatment and self-management measures are essential. The following are some medical treatments that are used to keep asthma symptoms under control.

Medications – There are two types of medications used for managing asthma symptoms-

  • Long-term medications for asthma control
    Typically, such medications are taken daily and are crucial for efficiently treating asthma. The use of these medicines improves your resistance against an attack and diminishes the chances of aggravating symptoms. Inhaled corticosteroids, leukotriene modifiers, combination inhalers, long-acting beta agonists, and phosphodiesterase inhibitors are some long-term medications that are used for keeping asthma in check. It is important to note that these medications won’t be beneficial while one is having an asthmatic attack.
  • Rescue (quick-relief) medications
    These medications are used for while one is having an asthmatic attack. Short-term beta-agonists, bronchodilators, and oral or intravenous corticosteroids are some commonly used rescue medications.
  • Allergy medications
    These are helpful if your asthma symptoms trigger due to allergens. Doctors will recommend immunotherapy (allergy shots) and injections for people with severe asthmatic symptoms.

Bronchial thermoplasty
This type of procedure is meant for patients who are dealing with a severe case of asthma which doesn’t tend to improve with prescription medicines. It is conducted on an outpatient basis and can take 3 or more sittings to complete. Bronchial thermoplasty involves the use of an electrode that heats the internal part of the airways to reduce the smooth muscles. This limits the airways from narrowing, thereby facilitating an easier movement of air.

Apart from medical assistance, one also needs to identify their potential triggers to reduce the possibility of asthmatic attacks. Ensure that you-

  • clean your house once a week
  • decontaminate items like mattresses sofas and pillows
  • maintain the right humidity in the home
  • wear a face mask when the air’s cold or dry
  • have your pets regularly groomed if you are allergic to pet dander
  • use your air conditioner as it minimizes your contact with dust mites