Asthma is defined as recurrent episodes of airway inflammation and tightening. One out of every 12 Americans suffers from asthma. Asthmatics live with symptoms of breathlessness, wheezing, coughing, and chest tightness. Unfortunately, the number of people developing asthma continues to grow. However, there are excellent treatments available for patients. As an asthma specialist, there are a few things I wish my patients knew about their asthma treatment. Asthma is a chronic disease. In other words, patients with asthma live with this disease every day! Some patients may only “feel” their asthma once a week, once a month or once a year. However, this does not mean that their asthma is not there when they have no symptoms. Flares of asthma can occur at any time, often triggered by an allergens, infection, irritants, weather changes, medications, stress, etc. Without proper treatment, asthma can be serious and even life-threatening. Asthma attacks account for almost 2 million emergency room visits per year. Even more frightening, over 3,000 people die from asthma each year. This does not have to be the case. While there is no cure for asthma, it can be successfully managed so patients can live a normal, healthy life. Taking control of asthma with lifestyle changes and medications can make all the difference. Avoid triggers. Even if Fluffy is the most adorable cat around, if he makes you cough, he should not be living with you. Asthma exacerbations and allergies go hand-in-hand. Exposure to dust, pets, pollens, and food allergens can trigger episodes of coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath in some patients. These symptoms can last for hours or even days and can be severe enough to require emergency treatment. Knowing what an asthmatic’s triggers are, and avoiding them, can prevent serious consequences. Get a flu shot. Despite what you may have heard, the flu shot cannot cause the flu. And getting a flu shot can prevent severe illness in patients with asthma. Influenza infection can initiate an asthma attack and result in a decline in lung function. It also can lead to pneumonia and other respiratory diseases. Patients with asthma are more likely to be hospitalized with the flu than those patients who do not have asthma. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Stop smoking. While smoking is detrimental to everyone’s lungs, it is especially hazardous to asthmatics. Smoking irritates the lungs’ airways, leading to further swelling, inflammation, and mucous production. Even secondhand smoke exposure is dangerous and can result in worsening asthma symptoms. Take medication as prescribed. Surprisingly, this is easier said than done. Most patients will take medications when feeling “sick” in order to breathe better right away. Many asthmatics will use a quick-relief medication, such as the bronchodilator albuterol, when they have symptoms. These quick-relief medications make patients feel better sooner and may allow them to get back to their normal activities. However, patients are less likely to take medication when feeling well. Going back to the first point, asthma is a chronic disease. Even though an asthmatic may have some symptom-free days, an asthma exacerbation can strike at any time with the right trigger. Treatment for many asthmatics therefore includes controller medication. Controller medications, such as leukotriene modifiers or inhaled steroids, are to be taken not only when you’re sick, but also when you’re feeling well. These medications are prescribed in order to prevent symptoms from occurring and must be taken regularly in order to keep asthma under control. Missing doses of controller medications can make asthma unstable, leading to an increase in the frequency and severity of symptoms. A written asthma plan developed by a patient and her doctor will document which medications to take, how often to take them, and what to do in the event of an asthma emergency. Follow up with your doctor regularly (even if you’re feeling great). Asthma symptoms and control can change over the course of time. It is therefore important for patients to follow up with their doctors at regular intervals (typically every 3-6 months) to determine if any changes need to be made to the treatment plan. With the right treatment, asthma doesn’t have to stop you. Patients with asthma may feel restricted in terms of sports and activities. This need not be the case. Numerous studies have shown that almost 20% of elite athletes have asthma. Asthma has not stopped these athletes from working and playing hard. Managing asthma with proper medications and a clean lifestyle will result in an active, vigorous life. The more you know… The more patients know and understand about asthma, the more successful they are at managing their disease. Advances in the treatment and control of asthma are occurring. Patients should continue to read and learn about asthma and consult with their doctor about new developments. Knowledge is power and will undoubtedly lead to success in living with asthma.