Asthma is a widely underestimated condition. In part, this may be because of how common it is: one in every 12 Americans has asthma, more than the number of people with Parkinson’s disease. Anything so commonly seen becomes almost background, difficult to take seriously as a debilitating major illness. However, asthma has what in that light is a surprisingly high mortality rate, more than 3,000 people each year. Even people with asthma don’t always take it seriously. One-quarter of all emergency room visits are due to asthma, and health experts say many of those visits could have been avoided with proper care.
That means working with health care professionals to create an asthma action plan. It means keeping up with both emergency and maintenance treatment. It means paying attention to symptoms and noticing when they are getting worse, or when attacks are more frequent. It is important for asthma patient to be on the alert for signs that the disease is increasing in severity, such as needing to use a quick-relief inhaler more often. Most of all, patients need to acknowledge that asthma is a disease, not a deficiency or a personal failing, and that the proper thing to do is get treatment, rather than try to push through it.
Some people need to be more alert for asthma signs than others. Risk factors for asthma include having a blood relative with asthma, exposure to industrial chemicals or environmental pollutants, and exposure to cigarette smoke. Pollutants and cigarette smoke can even affect fetuses; a child whose mother smoked or was otherwise exposed to airborne toxins while pregnant is at higher risk for asthma. People who are overweight are also prone to the disease. One of the biggest predictors of asthma is other respiratory allergies, such as hay fever. As many as half of all asthma sufferers also have inhaled particle allergies, and allergic reactions can trigger asthma attacks.
In addition to medical treatments such as inhaled corticosteroids and beta agonists, there are some lifestyle changes people with asthma can make to help keep it under control. Keeping track of triggers—which can vary significantly from person to person—can help someone know what to avoid. Smoking almost inevitably exacerbates asthma; people with asthma should not smoke or be around smokers. Maintaining good overall health can help reduce the severity and frequency of asthma attacks. Staying fit, working out if possible, eating right all help keep asthma under control. Heartburn, too, can effect the lungs, so meal planning should take that into account.