Asthma is a lung disease characterized by narrowing of the airways that causes continuing episodes or attacks of wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and cough. Asthma attacks can be triggered by factors including allergens (such as pet dander, dust mites, mold, pollens and food allergies), secondhand tobacco smoke, air pollution, exercise, strong odors and cold weather. Asthma is not contagious and anyone can have asthma at any age.
Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases in the US, affecting more than 20 million adults and more than 6 million children. Annually, asthma accounts for 14.7 million missed school days for children and 24.5 million missed work days for adults. In Kentucky, 10.6 percent of children 11 years of age and younger, 13.6 percent of middle school students, 11.8 percent of high school students and 18.6 percent of adults have asthma. While asthma can affect anyone at any age, it is more common among blacks. In Kentucky, 13.9 percent of blacks have asthma compared to 8.2 percent of whites. Additionally, blacks are two times more likely to die from asthma-related illness than whites.
There is no known cure for asthma, but it can be controlled. People with asthma can lead full, active lives with proper education, treatment and management. The successful management of asthma includes the following four important actions:
- Visit your doctor regularly
- Use long-term controller medications and fast-acting rescue medications appropriately
- Avoid asthma triggers
- Work with your doctor to develop and use a written management and action plan
- The successful management and control of a person's asthma will result in better quality of life, decreased asthma attacks, fewer visits to the emergency room, fewer hospitalizations and fewer missed school or work days.
Signs and Symptoms
- Coughing from asthma is often worse at night or early in the morning, making it hard to sleep.
- Chest tightness can feel like something is squeezing or sitting on your chest.
- Shortness of breath - some people say they can't catch their breath or they feel out of breath. You may feel like you can't get enough air in or out of your lungs.
- Faster breathing or noisy breathing.
Inflammation causes airways to become constricted and narrow. Narrowing of the airways, called bronchoconstriction, produces shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, coughing and wheezing.
What Can You Do?
Remember: Taking care of your asthma is an important part of your life.
A written self-management or Asthma Action Plan is useful for asthma patients. The health care provider prepares the plan detailing the adjustments to patient medications based on their asthma symptoms and peak flow meter readings. This plan can assist greatly in knowing what to do during an acute increase in symptoms (an acute exacerbation). If there is any doubt about what to do during an acute asthma exacerbation, you should contact your healthcare provider.
The use of tobacco in any form is a great health concern. Even if you don't smoke, reduce your exposure to secondhand smoke. If you use tobacco products, prepare yourself to quit as soon as possible.
- Set a date to stop and mark it on your calendar. Twenty-four hours before the start date make everyone aware of your goal to stop.
- Remove the smell of tobacco by cleaning your house and car. Remember to get rid of lighters, ashtrays and matches.
- You can use over-the-counter aids such as nicotine patches and gum. Contact your health insurance provider to see if Nicotine replacement therapy is a covered service.
- Know what your triggers are that make you want to use tobacco products and be prepared with chewing gum, celery or carrot sticks.
- Kentucky has a free Quit Now program that helps you quit using tobacco products. You can contact the Quit Now program at (800) 784-8669.
Control Your Environment
An important part of asthma control therapy is the control of contributing environmental factors. Common asthma triggers found in the environment include pets, molds, perfumes, dust mites and medications. Be aware of your asthma and symptoms, so that you can take action quickly at the sign(s) of an attack.
Working with your health care provider
- Learn about your asthma and how to control it. Work closely with your health care provider.
- Use medicines as directed by your health care provider to prevent or stop attacks.
- Get regular checkups from your health care provider.
- Stay away from things that make your asthma worse as much as possible.
- Follow your Asthma Action Plan and work with your health care provider on your plan.
EXHALE Strategies to Help People with Asthma
EXHALE is a set of six asthma prevention and control strategies to help people with asthma breathe easier. The evidence-based strategies are proven to reduce asthma-related hospitalizations, emergency room visits and health care costs. The EXHALE strategies were developed by the National Asthma Control Program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Kentucky Asthma Management Program uses EXHALE to improve asthma outcomes in the commonwealth. The strategies are:
- Education on asthma self-management such as teaching people with asthma how to use medications correctly
- X-tinguishing smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke which can trigger asthma attacks that require emergency care or hospitalization
- Home visits for asthma trigger reduction and self-management education including home environmental assessments to identify common asthma attack triggers such as cockroaches and mold
- Achievement of medical management objectives by using decision support tools such as treatment algorithms or reminders
- Linkages and coordination of care across settings to connect people with asthma to needed healthcare and social services
- Environmental policies or best practices to reduce asthma triggers from indoor, outdoor and occupational sources such as modifying older school bus diesel engines to run more cleanly and reduce air pollution
For more information, please visit the EXHALE webpage.
State Honor Roll of Asthma and Allergy Policies
The State Honor Roll of Asthma and Allergy Policies for schools is an annual research project of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America to identify states with the most comprehensive and preferred statewide public policies supporting people with asthma, food allergies, anaphylaxis risk and related allergic diseases in U.S. elementary, middle and high schools. The goal of this report is to identify state-level progress towards better school-based policies and provide a blueprint for asthma and allergy advocates nationwide.