Having accurate information regarding the severity of the symptoms helps the doctor determine what the best course of treatment is. According to the intensity of the condition, asthma is classified into four groups – mild intermittent (minor symptoms occurring up to 2 nights a month or 2 days a week), mild persistent (symptoms which appear more than 2 times a week), moderate persistent (frequent symptoms, occurring once a day) and severe persistent (constant symptoms throughout the day and periodically at night).
Although most people are prone to the generic form of asthma, there are other types of chronic lung issues, which present similar symptoms but are treated differently due to the underlying cause of the disease. This include:
If your asthma appeared when you changed jobs and your breathing improves whenever you are away from your work environment, then you may have occupational asthma. This condition is prevalent in people who work around dust, chemical fumes and other aggressive airborne irritants.
In a recent study, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reported that approximately 11 million USA workers are exposed to at least one of over 250 substances associated with developing occupational asthma.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the workers who have the highest risk of developing this condition include drug manufacturers, farmers, bakers, laboratory and metal workers, woodworkers, millers and detergent manufacturers.
Symptoms of this condition are invariably a result of physical exertion, ranging from chest tightness, decreased endurance, shortness of breath, sore throat and upset stomach. Generally, these symptoms appear within minutes of exercising and may continue for up to 15 minutes after finishing the workout.
EIB is triggered by airborne irritants related to certain sports and hyperventilation during physical activity and can be diagnosed by an allergist. To relieve the unwanted symptoms, it is generally recommended to cover your mouth and nose with a neckwear or a face mask when exercising in cold weather, warm up with a mild, easy routine for 15 minutes before engaging in an intense workout and regularly breathing through your nose when you exercise in order to heat up the air that goes directly to your lungs. For some patients, medicines used to treat generic asthma are also prescribed in order to alleviate EIB symptoms.
Long-term control of asthma symptoms is essential for treating this condition and involves a small dose of medicine delivered directly to the airways regularly. Generally, doctors will recommend using an inhaler in order to minimize the risk of a severe attack, as well as allow you to perform daily activities with ease. There are several options for treatment:
In order to alleviate your symptoms, you will be prescribed a reliever inhaler, which widens the airway and relaxes the breathing muscles. This type of medicine is also called a bronchodilator, as it stretches the primary bronchus and the bronchioles.
Quick-relief medications include oral and intravenous corticosteroids (for instance, prednisone), which relieve inflammation generated by severe asthma, but are only a short-term solution, as they can have damaging side effects over time.
Another option is short-acting beta agonists which can ease symptoms within minutes during attacks and can be taken using a hand-held, portable inhaler or nebulizer. Some examples include levalbuterol (Xopenex) and albuterol (Ventolin HFA). Ipratropium (Atrovent) is also known to act quickly in aiding breathing and is occasionally used to treat asthma attacks.
These are very similar to regular quick-relief inhalers but work for longer than the conventional ones. Working for up to 12 hours after taking each dose, this type of bronchodilator may be required in addition to your normal medication regimen. The most common are salmeterol (Serevent) and formoterol (Foradil).
This medication is taken daily in order to prevent potential unwanted symptoms from occurring. It usually takes one to two weeks until you can see the effects of this drug, meaning that this should not be used to gain immediate relief, as it is ineffective during an attack.
Approximately 6 weeks are required in order to experience the full-fledged benefits of the medication. It’s very important that, even if your symptoms have been reduced or fully eliminated, you continue using this inhaler in order to prevent them from recurring.
These oral medications alleviate asthma symptoms for up to 24 hours but are not as widely recommended due to certain reported side-effects. In some cases, patients experience aggression, restlessness, hallucinations and suicidal thoughts. Some examples of leukotriene modifiers include zileuton (Zyflo) and montelukast (Singulair).
Asthma is technically an incurable condition, but completely manageable in terms of reducing the frequency and intensity of the symptoms. Although there is no magic pill or absolute cure, about 50% of children diagnosed with asthma grow out of it by the time they are adults.
Either way, increasing treatment when needed and learning how to use your inhaler correctly are both good ways to ensure that you can control the symptoms so they don’t affect your quality of life or interfere with daily activities.
If you’re interested in seeing what else is out there, other than prescription drugs, then you can look into some holistic, alternative treatment options for asthma. These are meant to strengthen your lungs and bolster the body’s ability to protect itself against airborne triggers, as well as balance out hormones and regulate immune responses.
Some of the most common alternative options include mind-body approaches (muscular relaxation therapy, meant to counteract emotional stress and improve lung function), breathing techniques and yoga (pranayama – the science of controlled breathing and other practices like the Papworth method or Buteyko) and acupuncture (used in traditional Chinese medicine, where the patient has thin needles introduced in specific points on the body).
Although the exact root cause of asthma cannot be definitively determined, several attack triggers have been established, including air pollution, allergies, and sulfites in foods. In this respect, there are various over-the-counter dietary supplements and herbs which you can experiment with.
These include mustard oil (which can be massaged onto the chest in order to clear the respiratory passages), pure eucalyptus oil (has decongestant properties and can be used to restore normal breathing), Ginko Biloba (extract which has been proven to reduce inflammation), lobelia (Indian tobacco, used by Native Americans to treat respiratory diseases), coffee (natural bronchodilator), tea (contains small amounts of theophylline, used in medication for treating asthma), ginger (inhibits airway contraction, can be mixed in with fruit juice or smoothies), Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin C (can reduce inflammation and consequently alleviate asthma symptoms).
There are also a few natural herbs which have been used in alternative medicine to treat asthma – dried ivy, Boswellia, butterbur, and mullein. Although research is minimal for most of these methods, many people have had success using them. If you consult with your doctor beforehand, trying out some alternative treatment may actually aid in preventing and managing asthma symptoms.