According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 25 million Americans have asthma, or 7.7% of adults and 8.4% of children. In fact, asthma is the leading chronic disease in U.S. children.
Marc Ikeda, MD, an allergist at the Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center and clinical lead on asthma, shares what we may not know about the condition — but should.
Asthma Is Increasing
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that makes it difficult to move air in and out of the lungs. It results in episodes of coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness that can be triggered by things including exercise, allergies, poor air quality or a respiratory infection such as a cold.
Asthma is linked to genetics and tends to run in families. Children of asthmatics are at higher risk for the disease. But it is also attributed to the environment. Airborne allergens and viral respiratory infections have been associated with the development of asthma. Researchers are also evaluating the effects of tobacco smoke, air pollution and diet.
Asthma Is Variable
Asthma may first present in either children or adults. While many children may outgrow it, some do not. With adult-onset asthma, it can be more severe.
At asthma’s worst, it impacts school and work attendance, and limits pleasurable activities such as sports. Environmental crises, such as the recent Northern California fires, affect everyone’s airways, but people with asthma are impacted even more.
Asthma is a broad term and requires a different and personalized approach for each person. For example, there are different triggers, ranging from cold air to pet dander. It can also vary in severity, with some sufferers not having any difficulties most of the time, but then having a severe reaction requiring hospitalization. Others may be affected all of the time, but only a little.
Asthma Is Manageable
Kaiser Permanente Northern California is now ranked third in the nation for asthma control. Part of this success is in teaching patients how to manage it proactively.
Triggers. It’s essential to learn which factors or circumstances prompt an asthma attack, and then how to avoid them.
Medication. There are two kinds of medication inhalers. One is commonly called a rescue inhaler, for when someone has an attack and needs immediate relief. It works fast, and you can physically feel the difference.
The other, for persistent asthma, is called a controller inhaler. Just like it sounds, it is for controlling asthma to reduce symptoms and avoid full-blown emergencies. You may not feel it, but it is working in the background, just like a blood pressure medicine, for example.
When used, controller medicines work the best when used regularly, and can help reduce the need for a rescue medicine.
Lifestyle. Asthma sufferers can improve their health by maintaining a healthy weight, reducing exposure to air pollution and other known triggers, controlling conditions such as heartburn and reflux, and strengthening their lungs with exercise such as swimming. Asthma can be managed.