Approximately 22.2 million people in the US have been diagnosed with asthma. It is often thought of as a childhood condition, but asthma affects more adults than children. In some cases, asthma may not be diagnosed until adulthood.
Asthma is a chronic disease marked by wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and coughing. These symptoms are caused by chronic inflammation of the airways, increased mucus, and thickening and narrowing of the bronchial tubes.
What causes adult asthma? No one knows for sure. Higher levels of air pollution, a lack of exercise, and spending more time indoors may be to blame. Experts say that other factors also can increase your risk:
Viral infections, including upper-respiratory infections such as colds
Family history of asthma
Exposure to tobacco smoke or other irritants
Aspirin and over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as ibuprofen also can cause asthma attacks in some people, the American Medical Association (AMA) says. Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and beta-blockers—both given to treat heart disease and high blood pressure—may make asthma worse.
You may have asthma now and not even know it. Coughing or wheezing when you're vacuuming, gardening, or exposed to dogs or cats could be a sign of the condition, the AMA says. Other symptoms may include shortness of breath and tightness in your chest. Even a dry, hacking cough that lingers after what seems to be a mild cold could mean you have asthma. See your doctor if you notice changes in how you breathe. He or she can determine if you have asthma or another condition with similar symptoms, such as chronic bronchitis.
If you do have asthma, you'll probably start treatment for it right away with medication. Your doctor will probably prescribe a short-acting bronchodilator if you have mild and intermittent symptoms. For moderate or persistent symptoms, your doctor may also prescribe an anti-inflammatory drug. This may be combined with a long-acting bronchodilator or given as two separate inhalers. An oral anti-inflammatory drug may also be added for moderate or persistent symptoms.
Try these tips from the AMA to help manage your condition and prevent asthma attacks:
Make a list of the OTC and prescription medications you already take. Show it to all your doctors and update it at every visit.
Get your treatment plan in writing from your doctor. It should list your asthma medications and doses and when to take them.
Learn to use a peak flow meter. It can help you anticipate an asthma attack and adjust your medications accordingly.
Avoid asthma triggers, such as smoke and pollen. Respiratory infections also can worsen asthma. Talk with your doctor about ways to prevent them.
Have the following paperwork on hand in case of an asthma attack: an updated list of your medications and dosages, your health insurance ID card, the name and address of the closest hospital, and the names and phone numbers of your doctors.
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