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Asthma: What it is and who’s at risk

In the world of respiratory health, asthma is a significant challenge affecting 1 in 13 people in the United States. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, asthma is much more common among low-income groups, seniors and Black, Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native people. These groups experience the highest rates of asthma, as well as deaths and hospitalizations from their asthma attacks. 

To unravel the complexities of this condition, pulmonary specialist Delorian Davis at Tryon Medical Partners answers some key questions surrounding asthma.  

What is asthma?

Asthma, as Delorian explains, is a condition characterized by inflamed airways, leading to symptoms that can fluctuate in severity. Individuals with asthma may experience periods of normal breathing followed by sudden chest tightness and airway obstruction. The inflammation is often triggered by allergens in the environment, making asthma a condition that requires careful management.

“Asthma can be difficult,” Delorian notes, “because symptoms wax and wane. You can wake up one morning and feel fine, and the next, experience chest tightening or difficulty breathing.” 

Who is at risk of developing asthma?

Delorian emphasizes that certain factors can increase the risk of developing asthma:

  • Family history. If you simply have a parent with asthma, you are three to six times more likely to develop asthma than someone who does not have a parent with it.
  • Other allergies and eczema. Similarly, some people are more likely to develop allergies than others, especially if one of their parents has allergies. Certain allergic conditions, such as eczema or hay fever, can put you at increased risk of developing asthma. 
  • Occupational exposure. If you work in a setting where you may be exposed to certain dust, fumes, vapors and molds, that can also increase your risk for asthma. 
  • Environmental exposure. Your risk of asthma can be higher if you live in an urban area with air pollution or smog, or haveexposure to first or secondhand smoke. 

“It’s important to identify factors that may be contributing to your asthma,” Delorian cautions. “These are often triggers that cause attacks so it’s important to know how to limit your exposure.” 

How can I manage my asthma if I have a diagnosis?

Delorian recommends the following strategies to ensure your asthma stays under control: 

  • Know your triggers. Identify what might be causing asthma attacks in your environment and think about how you can reduce your exposure to them. 
  • Comply with your treatment plan. If you’ve spoken with your doctor about your asthma and they have you on certain medications, make sure to follow that regimen to keep your asthma under control. 
  • Listen to your body. Your body will often tell you what it needs – and give you warning signs if you’re getting close to an attack. Become familiar with those signs and listen to your body when you notice them. 
  • Use your inhaler correctly. Improper use of the inhaler can hinder effectiveness. Make sure you’re clear on how to use yours. If you aren’t, ask your doctor, pharmacist or even watch a YouTube refresher

“Once you know your triggers, you can take action to manage them,” Delorian explains. “If you know your seasonal allergies can increase attacks, wear masks outside during pollen season. If you know your workplace puts you at higher risk, reduce your exposure to workplace irritants as much as you can.” 

When should I seek medical attention for my asthma?

Sometimes medical intervention may be necessary to regain control over your asthma: 

  • If you have an asthma diagnosis and you’re experiencing an exacerbation of symptoms, you should see a pulmonary specialist to access lung function and ensure your asthma isn’t progressing into a condition like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 
  • If you don’t have an asthma diagnosis, but are experiencing difficulty breathing, this also warrants immediate evaluation. Severe coughing or shortness of breath should prompt a visit to a pulmonary clinician for testing. 

“Visiting a pulmonary specialist is never a bad idea,” Delorian encourages. “It gives us a sense of where your lung health is now and a point of comparison for when you come back in the future so we can see where your lung health is heading.” 

Make an appointment to improve your lung health today.