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Breathe Easy: A Guide to Asthma

Breathe Easy:
A Guide to Asthma

What is asthma?
How do you get asthma?
What are the symptoms of asthma?
How can I find out if I have asthma?
How do you treat asthma?
Should I take medicine every day if I have asthma?
Do I need medicine if my asthma only comes on when I exercise?
Does asthma ever go away?

What is asthma?
Asthma is the most common lung disease in teenagers. It's caused by an irritation of the lungs that makes the breathing passages tighten up. This makes it very difficult to breathe in and out and get enough oxygen. back to top

How do you get asthma?
No one knows why some people have asthma and others don't. There are certain triggers that seem to cause asthma in the people who are prone to it. These triggers include:
  • allergies, especially to pollen, mold, animal dander, dust, and dust mites
  • cigarette smoke
  • air pollution
  • food additives like sulfites
  • colds
  • exercise (It sounds strange, but exercise can trigger asthma in some cases.)
  • cold air (Breathing in cold air can cause an asthma attack in some people.)
  • medications back to top
What are the symptoms of asthma?
Asthma flare-ups are called "attacks." When a girl has an asthma attack, she may suddenly feel short of breath. She will often have wheezing, a cough, and a tight feeling in her chest. During a severe attack, she will find it hard to breathe at all and may feel like she is suffocating.

An asthma attack can last a few hours or longer. Some people with asthma have attacks only a few times a year. Others who have severe asthma may have an attack every day. Between attacks, a person with asthma may feel completely normal. back to top

How can I find out if I have asthma?
If you ever feel shortness of breath or a tight feeling in your chest as if you can't breathe, contact your health professional. He or she can examine you and do some tests to see if you have asthma. Your doctor will listen to your lungs with a stethoscope. That's because you may have wheezing that you can't hear or feel.

Your health professional will do a test, called spirometry, to measure how well your lungs are working. You blow into a machine that measures the amount of air you're breathing in and out, and how fast you can blow out air. A chest X ray can show certain signs that are often associated with asthma. back to top

How do you treat asthma?
Most people who have asthma can control it with medication. There are two types of treatment: medicines that treat asthma attacks, and medicines that prevent asthma attacks.

During an asthma attack, it is important to get the medicine into the lungs as fast as you can. The best way to do this is to use a device called an inhaler. The inhaler sprays medicine into the mouth where you can quickly breathe it into your lungs. The medicine relaxes the breathing passages so you can breathe more easily.

Some of the medications used to treat asthma attacks can also be taken as a pill to prevent them. Many people take asthma medication every day and also use an inhaler for attacks.

Steroids, which are medicines that can reduce inflammation, are also used to treat asthma. Steroids can be taken through an inhaler or by mouth. They are usually used in addition to the medications described above.

Sometimes, oral and inhaled medicines may not be enough to control a severe asthma attack. If you have a severe attack, you may need to be admitted to the hospital for treatment with IV medication or additional help with breathing. back to top

Should I take medicine every day if I have asthma?
If your health professional prescribes daily medicine for your asthma, you need to take it every day. Even if you feel fine, you may need to take the medicine daily. Talk to your health professional before stopping any medicine that she or he has prescribed. back to top

Do I need medicine if my asthma only comes on when I exercise?
Some teens with asthma don't need medicine to treat it on a daily basis. They may only need to take asthma medicine before exercise or any other activity that might trigger an attack. If you have wheezing or asthma attacks when you exercise, talk to your health professional. You might be able to use an inhaler right before that kind of activity. Never use another person's inhaler, because it may not be the right medicine for you. back to top

Does asthma ever go away?
Some girls will outgrow asthma. Your health professional will let you know if it looks like you are outgrowing it. back to top

Last Modified Date: 4/3/2001
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