Asthma in America is almost epidemic. Centers for Disease Control statistics say that one in 12 Americans—and one in 10 children—have the condition. In many cases, asthma is brought on by allergies, although 40 to 50 percent of people with asthma don’t have allergies, says Dr. David Rosenstreich, director of the division of Allergy and Immunology at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. Many simply have a genetic predisposition that meets the right mix of environmental toxins like smoke or fumes. In all cases, the airways become inflamed and narrowed, leaving the asthmatic wheezing, coughing and struggling for breath. But there’s a lot asthmatics can do to breathe more easily.
Try these tips for managing the condition.
Learn your triggers—and avoid them. Triggers can include anything from pollens to cold air to smoke, says Dr. Gary Weinstein, medical director of the asthma management program at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.
Control your environment.
This is especially important in reducing asthma in children, Rosenstreich says. If you or your child is allergic to pets, get rid of them—or, at the least, don’t let the animal in his bedroom. If you’re allergic to feathers, get latex pillows. Buy allergen-free covers for your mattresses and pillows. These help control dust mites, little creatures that many people are allergic to.
Try some prevention.
If allergies or asthma run in your family, protect your kids both during and after pregnancy by not smoking, Rosenstreich says. And if you can, breastfeed: Breast milk is unlikely to trigger an allergy and also boosts the immune system.
Monitor your breath.
Patients need to measure their air flow once a day, using a peak flow meter—a plastic tube they blow into, which measures how fast air is moving out of their lungs, Weinstein says. “If the rate is less than 50 percent of what it should be—based on sex, age and height—they need to see their doctor.” Find out what your rate should be at Spryliving.com/peakflow.
Most people who have asthma use long-term medications like inhaled steroids that reduce inflammation. They also may use a bronchodilator, a short-term inhaled medication that works within 15 minutes and keeps airways open for three to four hours.
“You shouldn’t have to use your short-term inhaler more than twice a week or have nighttime symptoms more than twice a month,” Weinstein says. If you do, your asthma is not properly controlled; talk to your doctor about adjusting your medication and other strategies that might help.