What causes and works in treating asthma

The New York City Health Department reported the 1 percent jump in tuberculosis cases — up to 656 in 2013 compared to 651 in 2012. Credit: BSIP/Getty Images

The question:
I’ve been coughing when I go out in the cold. Could this be asthma?

One in 12 American adults has asthma, the CDC says. But there are many variables and not everyone with asthma has the same symptoms or triggers.

Asthma is an inflammatory condition affecting the bronchial tubes in the lungs, which may cause wheezing, coughing, or increased mucous production, and chest tightness or shortness of breath. Exacerbations — aka asthma attacks — can be triggered by a number of things, like environmental substances, occupational irritants, tobacco smoke, air pollution, exercise, respiratory infections, emotional stress, acid reflux, certain medications and exposure to cold air. It is not totally clear what physiologic factors cause some people to have asthma when others do not.

Asthma can be diagnosed by your doctor or a pulmonary (lung) specialist, who will take down your history, exam you and perform a series of tests that measure the functioning of your lungs in response to various tests and/or medications.

Once your doctor diagnoses you and identifies your triggers, he or she will work to customize your treatment, often by trial and error. There are a few categories of drugs that may be used to reverse the bronchial inflammation and resulting airway spasm. These include:

  • Bronchodilators: These are usually in the form of aerosol canisters or vapor nebulizers that deliver the medication directly into the lung. You inhale a puff of the drug in the form of a mist or fine particulate powder.
  • Corticosteroids: These are anti-inflammatory substances that can be delivered via inhalation, orally or intravenous injection. They modify the body’s response to the asthma triggers by reducing the effects of various chemicals released at the cellular level.
  • Leukotriene modifiers: These are orally administered and block the release of substances that are the chemical building blocks of inflammation, in effect, stopping inflammation before it gets started.
  • Allergy relievers: Antihistamines, decongestants and allergy shots may all help to prevent or relieve the effects of environmental or seasonal allergies that contribute to the onset of asthma attacks.

Preventing asthma attacks by identifying and avoiding triggers is worth a pound of cure. Keep your windows closed and use air conditioners and indoor air filters. Clean your home to reduce pet dander, mold and dust mites. Keep your nose and mouth covered you’re outside in cold weather.

Finally, losing weight, preventing acid reflux, staying well hydrated and regularly exercising are all means of improving your lung capacity and efficiency, all of which will help to make asthma symptoms more manageable for those people who are affected.


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