Asthma | Pulmonology & Critical Care | Loyola Medicine

Asthma

Overview and Facts about Asthma

Asthma is a chronic disease of the lungs that causes swelling and inflammation, which makes the lungs more sensitive to the things you breathe in. This condition makes it more difficult to move air in and out of the lungs.

Asthma is common; about 25.7 million people in the United States have asthma, including 7 million children. About 1.8 million people have an asthma-related emergency room visit each year, and 439,000 people are hospitalized.

Signs and Symptoms of Asthma

The common signs and symptoms of asthma include the following:

  • Feelings of tightness in the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • A whistling sound when exhaling

For some people, these symptoms worsen during certain situations, such as during exercise, or when spending time outside during allergy season.

Causes and Risk Factors of Asthma

The most common risk factors that cause asthma include the following:

  • Family history
  • Viral respiratory infections during early childhood
  • Allergies
  • Exposures at work to things like dust, chemical fumes, or vapors
  • Smoking
  • Air pollution
  • Obesity

Tests and Diagnosis of Asthma

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, you should consult with a pulmonary specialist to investigate your condition further. The doctor will rule out other conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), by performing a physical exam, listening to your lungs while breathing, and asking you questions about your symptoms and medical history.

There are two main tests used to confirm an asthma diagnosis:

  • Spirometry: This test checks how much air you are able to exhale after taking a deep breath and also how quickly you can exhale.
  • Peak flow: This test determines how hard you are able to exhale. This provides a measure of how hard your lungs are working to perform this basic function.

Once these tests are completed, the doctor will give you a medication called a bronchodilator. If your breathing improves after using this medication, you most likely have asthma.

Treatment and Care for Asthma

There is no cure for asthma, however, with proper management, people with asthma can live full and healthy lives. The right treatment usually involves a quick-relief bronchodilator, which opens swollen airways that have limited breathing.

For long-term management, your doctor will likely recommend medications that you take daily to make you less likely to have an asthma attack. Inhaled corticosteroids and long-acting beta agonists are two common options for long-term medications.