Asthma Information for Adults

Asthma Article

Asthma affected the health nearly 8% of all American adults in 2010, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease characterized by wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing. The number of Americans suffering with asthma has risen over 12% in the past decade.

An asthma attack can result in several different symptoms. Asthma symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
  • Frequent coughing (especially a tendency to cough at night)
  • Wheezing (a wheeze is a whistling noise caused while breathing)
  • Chest tightness   

When a doctor makes a diagnosis of asthma in people older than 20, it is known as adult-onset asthma. Among those who may be more likely to get adult-onset asthma are people with allergies (especially to cats), and people who have recently had certain illnesses, such as a cold or flu. Those exposed to environmental irritants, including dust, mold, tobacco smoke, or perfume, are at risk of adult-onset asthma. Also prone to adult-onset asthma are women having hormonal changes (possibly related to pregnancy or menopause), and women who take estrogen following menopause for 10 years or longer.

Irritants that bring on asthma symptoms are called "asthma triggers." Asthma brought on by workplace triggers is called "occupational asthma."

An important part of treatment is keeping track of how well your lungs are performing. Asthma symptoms can be monitored using a device called a peak flow meter. The meter will alert you to changes in your airways that can be a sign of an impending asthma attack. By taking daily peak flow readings, you can learn when to adjust medications to control your asthma. Your doctor can also use this information to adjust your treatment plan.

Although there is no cure for asthma, it can be controlled. To define what you mean by control of your asthma, you should have a set of goals in mind. These should include:

  • Performing daily activities without difficulty.
  • Being able to go to work every day.
  • Preventing chronic and troublesome symptoms.
  • Avoiding urgent visits to the doctor or hospital.
  • Using medications with no side effects.

Based on your history and the severity of asthma, your doctor will develop a care plan called an asthma action plan. The asthma action plan describes when and how to use asthma medications, actions to take when asthma worsens, and when to seek care for an asthma emergency. Make sure you understand this plan; if not, ask your asthma care provider any questions you may have.