Asthma causes the airways of the lungs to swell and become narrower. This can make it hard to breathe and cause wheezing as you breathe in and out. Asthma cannot be cured, but can be relieved with medicine. Repeat attacks are common.
Triggers may include pollen, dust, animals, molds, some foods, lung infections, smoke, exercise, high amounts of air pollution, or stress.
Common symptoms include trouble breathing, a tight feeling in the chest, and wheezing. During a bad asthma attack, you may sweat and have real difficulty breathing. Your lips and nailbeds may turn a pale or blue color, your heart may beat faster and you may become very anxious. If this happens, call 911 or 0 (operator) to get help immediately.
Most of the time you can care for yourself at home. But if medicine fails to improve your breathing, you must be treated in the emergency department or in the hospital. While there, you may need oxygen, medicine, and breathing treatments.
Asthma is rarely fatal if you take your medicine and follow your doctor's orders.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO
- If you use a medicine that you inhale, here are some tips:
- First, shake the inhaler.
- Breathe out slowly, all the way.
- Put the mouthpiece of the inhaler in your mouth or 2 inches away (about half a finger's length), or use the spacer (a piece of plastic-like tubing that attaches to the inhaler).
- Breathe in and push down on the inhaler at the same time (to create the mist).
- Hold your breath for about 10 seconds.
- Breathe out slowly through puckered lips or through your nose.
- If you need to take 2 puffs, wait 2 to 5 seconds before taking the second one.
- Gargling after using your inhaler may reduce the amount of burning in your throat.
- When you have an attack:
- Use your inhaler. If this does not help, repeat the inhaler one more time after waiting the number of minutes recommended by your doctor. If the second try doesn't work, check to see whether the inhaler is empty. It's empty if it floats in a bowl of water.
- It may help your breathing if you straddle a chair backwards, placing your elbows up on the back of the chair.
- If you do not know what causes your attacks:
- Keep writing down the time of your attack. Also notice what is around you when it occurs.
- Consider allergy testing if you have not had it done already.
- Always take your medicine as directed by your doctor. If you feel it is not helping, call your doctor. Do not quit taking it on your own.
- Try to avoid pollen, dust, animals, molds, smoke, and anything else that could cause an attack.
- Keep the amount of dust in your home at a minimum. One way is to hire a company to clean out the air ducts and vents in your house.
- Replace your pillows or mattress with materials that don't cause allergies. Look for bedding that is made of ""urethane'' or foam rubber and is labeled ""nonallergenic.''
- If you do not have to limit the amount of liquids you drink, drink 8 to 10 (soda-can sized) glasses of water each day. This helps thin the sputum so it can be coughed up more easily.
- If animals are the cause of your asthma, you may need to find another home for your pets.
- Quit smoking. It harms the lungs. If you are having trouble quitting, ask your doctor for help.
- Exercise daily. It helps make the heart stronger, lowers blood pressure, and keeps you healthy. If your exercise plan seems too hard or easy, check with your doctor.
- Excess weight can make the heart and lungs work harder. If you need to lose weight, ask your doctor for the plan that's best for you.
Call Your Doctor If...
- You have wheezing and trouble breathing even when taking your medicine regularly.
- You develop a high temperature.
- You have muscle aches or chest pain.
- Your sputum turns yellow, green, gray, or bloody, or becomes too thick to cough up.
- You have any problems that may be caused by your medicine (such as a rash, itching, swelling, or trouble breathing).
- Wheezing, trouble breathing, or coughing gets worse, even though you are taking your medicine.
- You have followed directions above and still cannot breathe, Call 911 or 0 (operator) to get to the nearest hospital or clinic. Do not drive yourself!
IF YOU'RE HEADING FOR THE HOSPITAL...
What to Expect While You're There
You may encounter the following procedures and equipment during your stay.
- Taking Vital Signs: These include your temperature, blood pressure, pulse (counting your heartbeats), and respirations (counting your breaths). A stethoscope is used to listen to your heart and lungs. Your blood pressure is taken by wrapping a cuff around your arm.
- Oxygen: Your body may need extra oxygen at this time. It is given either by a mask or nasal prongs. Tell your doctor if the oxygen is drying out your nose or if the nasal prongs bother you.
- Pulse Oximeter: While you are getting oxygen, you may be hooked up to a pulse oximeter (ox-IM-ih-ter). It is placed on your ear, finger, or toe and is connected to a machine that measures the oxygen in your blood.
- Breathing Treatments: A machine will be used to help you inhale medicine. A therapist will help with these treatments. They will help open your airways so you can breathe easier. At first you may need them frequently. As you get better, you may only need them when you are having trouble breathing.
- IV: A tube placed in your vein for giving medicine or liquids. It will be capped or have tubing connected to it.
- Blood: Usually taken from a vein in your hand or from the bend in your elbow. Tests will be done on the blood.
- Blood Gases: Blood is taken from an artery in your wrist, elbow, or groin. It is tested for the amount of oxygen it contains.
- ECG: Also called a heart monitor, an electrocardiograph (e-LEK-tro-CAR-dee-o-graf), or EKG. The patches on your chest are hooked up to a TV-type screen or a small portable box (telemetry unit). This screen shows a tracing of each heartbeat. Your heart will be watched for signs of injury or damage that could be related to your illness.
- 12 Lead ECG: This test makes tracings from different parts of your heart. It can help your doctor decide whether there is a heart problem.
- Chest X-ray: This picture of your lungs and heart shows how they are handling the illness.
- Medicine: Many different kinds of medicines may be needed.
- Inhalants: These medicines are breathed in to help open your airways.
- Antibiotics: If an infection is causing breathing problems, you'll be given antibiotics to clear it up.
- Breathing Medicine: This medicine may be given in your IV first, and then in pill form. Like an inhalant, it will open your airways.