Identifying Asthma Symptoms and Choosing the Right Asthma Medications

Being short of breath is a sensation that most people will never experience, but unfortunately an asthma sufferer experiences it all too regularly. There are millions of them around the world, and all of them rely on some type of medication to mediate their asthma symptoms. Fortunately medications like asthma inhalers are quite reliable and effective. While asthma is a lifelong affliction, asthma symptoms are manageable and that applies to allergic asthma as well.

It’s common for people with asthma to ask whether there’s more they can do to either prevent asthma attacks or limit the severity of symptoms. There’s good news there, as some asthma medications like the Advair Diskus and Flovent Diskus, among others, are designed to work to stop asthma attacks before they begin. They are different from the standard asthma inhalers which are classified as being ‘rescue’ devices that reduce the swelling and inflammation of the airway that cause shortness of breath.

It may be best to start from the beginning for anyone who is new to the condition themselves or has a loved one experiencing shortness of breath and may have asthma. You may be pleased to know that some children diagnosed with asthma at a young age may experience complete remission of the disease, but that is less commonly seen in adults.

What is Asthma?

The definition of asthma is that it is a long-term inflammatory disease of the airways of the lungs. The primary asthma symptoms are airflow obstruction, bronchospasm, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. If you or a family member experience any of these symptoms, then it’s important to see your family physician as soon as possible. People with asthma can have these symptoms occurring very often, occasionally, or infrequently. For some people these symptoms are worse at night, or when they have been exercising or exposed to cold outdoor air for a long time.

When an asthma attack occurs, the body’s immune system reacts by sending an abundance of white blood cells to the alveoli of the lungs, and another one of the asthma symptoms regularly seen is difficulty coughing up the increased quantity of sputum in the lungs that results from the increase in white blood cells present.

Identifying asthma symptoms on your own should not be seen as a definitive means of diagnosing the condition, as many of the same symptoms are seen in people with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Shortness of breath, wheezing, and cough are also symptoms of COPD. The fundamental difference between the two conditions is that asthma involves reversible airway obstruction, while COPD involves fixed airway obstruction.

Diagnosing Asthma

Like many health conditions, a family history of asthma means you’re more likely to have the condition yourself. That’s also true if you have a history of allergic rhinitis (hay fever) or if you had any viral respiratory illness during childhood. Exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke in youth can also be a factor, as is obesity for adults.

Asthma is diagnosed with a detailed history review and physical examination first. Then one or more of the following diagnostic procedures are used for diagnosing asthma officially:

  • Lung function testing with spirometry
  • Measuring exhaled nitric oxide
  • Skin testing for common aeroallergens (for allergic asthma)
  • Testing for airway hyperresponsiveness with a methacholine challenge

Defining Allergic Asthma

It shouldn’t be difficult for most people to imagine what allergic asthma is in comparison to simple asthma. The asthma symptoms are the same, but allergic asthma is a situational condition that’s brought on by exposure to an allergen, rather than being an ongoing chronic condition like asthma. Allergic asthma is not to be confused with allergic rhinitis, which is also a condition caused by exposure to an allergen but one where symptoms are more pronounced in the sinuses and head rather than the lungs and airway.

Generally speaking, the same rescue allergy medications that are effective for treating symptoms will be similarly effective for providing relief from allergic asthma. This includes most of the popular ICS asthma inhalers, which deliver corticosteroids that serve to counter inflammation of the airways.

Preventing Asthma Symptoms

As mentioned above, there are some asthma medications that work to prevent asthma symptoms before they have a chance to establish themselves. Products like the Flovent Diskus and Advair Diskus contain Fluticasone and / or Salmeterol or Formoterol, which are long-acting bronchodilators (LABAs) that work to expand the airway so that it can compensate for the restriction of it that occurs once an asthma attack begins.

For patients with severe asthma, regular use of these medications is highly recommended. Many people will use them in conjunction with their ICS inhalers used to provide relief should any asthma attack begin despite the use of a Diskus or another preventative product. It should be mentioned that most physicians will state that asthma sufferers should not rely on a LABA exclusively, and should keep a rescue device with them as well.

Proper use of asthma inhalers is very important, and typically your dispensing pharmacist will make you aware of how to use your inhaler so that you get the maximum benefit from it. Improper use may mean not enough of the medication is introduced to the airway and the asthma symptoms are not sufficiently reduced. A person with asthma will have their symptoms worsened if they smoke or are exposed to higher levels of air pollution because of where they live.

In conclusion, advances in medication over recent decades have made asthma an increasingly manageable condition and most people with it state that it doesn’t impede their day-to-day activities very much. This is especially true of the LABA medications mentioned above, and when they are taken regularly as directed any asthma attacks that do occur are usually quite mild and easily overcome with an asthma inhaler most times.