Asthma is a complex disease that researchers believe is caused by a combination of both genetic and environmental factors. Many genes have been linked to asthma. There are also many environmental factors connected to asthma in children. With so many variables, preventing the development of asthma can be challenging, if not impossible.
Asthma prevention focuses on preventing attacks. Here are some expert tips and advice on avoiding asthma attacks.
Breathing in something that triggers inflammation in the airways usually brings on asthma attacks. These attacks, along with the mucous that accompanies them, close up the airways. The best way to prevent asthma attacks is to identify and avoid these triggers as best you can.
Air filters can help rid your home of common asthma triggers, including most mold, pollen, dust mites, and other allergens. The best systems use high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, these can clear the air of up to 99.9 percent of pollutants. Air filtration is recommended to control asthma triggers. But asthma sufferers should not rely on air filtration alone to control their symptoms.
These devices increase moisture level in the air with water vapor. If cleaned and maintained properly, humidifiers can help ease asthma symptoms for some sufferers.
Immunotherapy in the form of allergy shots, works to enhance or suppress the immune system. The goal of immunotherapy is to reduce sensitivity to allergens over time. For the first few months the injections are usually given once a week. Eventually, they may be given only once a month. This can go on for several years until the immune system is desensitized.
If you cannot avoid allergy triggers, talk to your doctor about whether immunotherapy may be an option for you.
Using asthma medication is really a two-prong approach. First, you will likely use your meds on a regular basis to prevent attacks. But in addition, taking action at the first sign of asthma symptoms is the key to preventing attacks.
Some are taken through an inhaler, some orally, and some by injection. A few of the more common preventative medications include the following.
These act like natural hormones and block inflammation. While steroids are the strongest drugs for asthma, their long-term side effects make them less desirable for regular use.
These medications work by counteracting leukotrienes. Leukotrienes are substances released by white blood cells in the lung that cause the air passages to constrict.
Beta agonists are used for preventing attacks triggered by exercise and sports activities. These medications are bronchodilators, and they work by relaxing the airways, allowing you to breathe easier.
It's essential to monitor how well your asthma medications are working by testing your lung function regularly. You can use a peak flow meter to measure the amount of air flowing from your lungs. This self-administered test can reveal narrowing of the airways before the onset of symptoms.
You can determine what triggers an asthma attack, when to stop or add medication, and when to seek emergency medical care by using a peak flow meter to establish some baseline measurements, and then regularly checking your peak flow rate.
Asthma experts, including those at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommend developing an asthma action plan with your doctor to help control your asthma. The plan will document important information such as your daily medications, how to handle asthma attacks, and how to control your asthma symptoms long term.
Most plans, including the one recommended by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (part of the NIH), have three asthma zones color-coded according to severity. These help those with asthma monitor the severity of their symptoms.
Green Zone: “Doing Well”
- no asthma symptoms during the day or night
- able to perform casual activities
Yellow Zone: “Asthma is Getting Worse”
- symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath
- waking at night due to asthma symptoms
- able to perform some but not all normal activities
- symptoms same or worse for 24 hours
Red Zone: “Medical Alert!”
- extremely short of breath
- quick-relief medications not helping
- unable to perform normal activities