Along with changing colors and brisk weather, fall often brings coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath for people with asthma. For some, these symptoms are only a nuisance, but for others, it can be a major medical problem — perhaps even a life-threatening one. Although there is no known cure for asthma, it is possible to control the symptoms and avoid certain triggers.
There are many known triggers for asthma, but some of the ones specific to this time of year include:
- Colder air
- Respiratory infections, such as the common cold
- Increased physical activity
- Smoke and other pollutants (think campfires and fall candles)
- Other airborne substances such as pollen, falling leaves and mold spores
- Stress and other strong emotions that can come with the start of the holiday season
Most people with asthma take a long-term asthma control medication that prevents the majority of asthma attacks. These include inhalers or oral medications. When those medications aren’t enough and an attack occurs, it becomes necessary to use a quick-relief or rescue medication.
These rescue medications are either bronchodilators that relieve attack symptoms by increasing the size of bronchi to make it easier to breathe, or corticosteroids that work by decreasing the inflammation in the airway. The bronchodilators are delivered by aerosol using a portable puff inhaler, or by a nebulizer that changes the medication into a fine mist so it can be inhaled through a mask. The corticosteroids can be taken by pill or injected intravenously.
It’s important to remember, however, that the necessary use of a rescue medication should be rare. If long-term medications are working the way they should, asthma flares should not occur. The use of a rescue inhaler more than 3 times per week suggests poor asthma control and should prompt a visit to your healthcare provider. It may be necessary for some people to have their long-term medications adjusted according to the time of year or the area of the country they're living in. It’s also important for asthma sufferers to remember not to skip their long-term asthma or allergy medications just because they seem to be doing well.
If you are exceeding the recommended number of uses of your rescue medication, it’s time to visit your provider for a long-term medication adjustment. Contact a primary care provider at Goshen Health to learn more about which asthma treatment is right for you.