Cape May County Employee Wellness Program

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a condition that affects the smaller airways (bronchioles) of the lungs. From time to time the airways constrict (narrow) in people who have asthma. This causes the typical symptoms. The extent of the narrowing, and how long each episode lasts, can vary greatly.

Asthma can start at any age, but it most commonly starts in childhood. At least 1 in 10 children, and 1 in 20 adults, have asthma. Asthma runs in some families,but many people with asthma have no other family members affected.

Asthma is caused by inflammation in the airways. It is not known why the inflammation occurs. The inflammation irritates the muscles around the airways, and causes them to squeeze (constrict). This causes narrowing of the airways. It is then more difficult for air to get in and out of the lungs. This leads to wheezing and breathlessness. The inflammation also causes the lining of the airways to make extra mucus which causes cough and further obstruction to airflow.

Asthma Symptoms Most people think of allergy symptoms as just sneezing and itchy eyes. But what they don’t realize is that the symptoms and health effects can be far worse.
Asthma Triggers What’s new in allergy treatment?
Preventive Measures What about air purifiers?
Treatments The rates of both allergies and asthma have climbed in recent decades. Does current research tell us why?
Online Resources Get Allergy forecasts and alerts for your area

Managing Your Disease

Part of managing asthma is knowing the symptoms of an asthma attack:

Symptoms of an asthma attack include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in chest
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Faster breathing
  • Drop in peak flow rate

An important step in managing asthma is to reduce exposures to your asthma triggers. You may not be affected by all of the triggers listed here but by working with your doctor may be able to help you determine which triggers affect your asthma.

Asthma triggers can include:

Allergens, such as:

  • Dogs, or other animals
  • Pollen from trees, grass and weeds
  • Dust or mold
  • Colds or flu

Irritants, such as:

  • Strong odors from perfumes, paints, sprays, or other items
  • Smoke from cigarettes or from burning wood, paper, or other items

Environmental factors:

  • Weather changes or very cold air
  • Air pollution
  • Exercise
  • Aspirin or other medicines

Preventive Measures

Things that can be done to prevent asthma attacks:

  • Working with your doctor to learn more about your asthma;
  • If needed, taking medications as directed by your physician;
  • Watching for signs that your asthma is getting worse and talking to your doctor about any changes; and
  • Attempting to minimize exposure to known triggers of your asthma.



Most people with asthma are treated with inhalers. Inhalers deliver a small dose of drug directly to the airways. The dose is enough to treat the airways. However, the amount of drug that gets into the rest of your body is small so side-effects are unlikely, or minor. There are various inhaler devices made by different companies. Different ones suit different people. A doctor or nurse will advise on the different types.

Tablets to open up the airways

Most people do not need tablets as inhalers usually work well. However, in some cases a tablet (or in liquid form for children) is prescribed in addition to inhalers if symptoms are not fully eased by inhalers alone. Some young children use liquid medication instead of inhalers.

Steroid tablets

A short course of steroid tablets (such as prednisolone) is sometimes needed to ease a severe or prolonged attack of asthma. Steroid tablets are
good at reducing the inflammation in the airways. For example, a severe attack may occur if you have a cold or chest infection.

Spring Allergies: A Q&A with A Top Expert

It’s springtime again and all across the country, people with allergies are sniffling, sneezing, and generally suffering from a surfeit of spring allergies. The chief medical editor at WebMD, Michael W. Smith, MD, sat down with nationally acclaimed allergist Jordan S. Josephson, MD, to get the latest news on causes, treatments, and home remedies for allergic reactions.

Q: Most people think of allergy symptoms as just sneezing and itchy eyes. But what they don’t realize is that the symptoms and health effects can be far worse.
A: What starts as simple itching and sneezing can turn into something much more serious. As your allergies worsen, your nasal passages and sinuses become swollen and congested. This can lead to a sinus infection. The infected mucus draining from your sinuses can drip into your stomach and, if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), cause symptoms to act up. And if this mucus drips down the trachea into your lungs, it can irritate your lungs and your airways.

If you have asthma, it can flare up and lead to bronchitis. If the mucus drips over your Eustachian tube, the tube that connects your middle ear to the outside of your head, the tube becomes clogged and you can’t equalize the pressure in your ear. This can lead to ear problems, such as decreased hearing from excess pressure in the ear, ear pain, or even ear infection.

Sleep apnea, caused by a blockage anywhere from the tip of the nose to the back of the throat, is another complication of allergies or sinus problems, leading to sleep deprivation and chronic fatigue. Sleep apnea can cause heart disease if it’s
not treated; in fact, it’s the No. 1 cause for heart attack and stroke while sleeping.

Bottom line: Allergies, although usually a quality of life issue that makes us feel lousy, can also be very serious. People have anaphylactic reactions to both environmental and food allergies, and you can end up with a really bad asthma attack and possibly die. It’s much more than a stuffy nose, and if the symptoms are not improving with simple measures, you should see a board-certified sinus and allergy specialist.

Q: What’s new in allergy treatment?
A: Eastern and Western medicine are joining forces. So now, irrigation with neti pots and hydrating irrigating units (devices that deliver pulses of drug-free irrigation solution) and squeeze bottles are becoming more mainstream. This is really important because all these wash out the allergens that get in your nose. Also exciting are new intranasal antihistamines, such as Astelin, that work unbelievably well. They can be used in addition to oral antihistamines as well as nasal irrigation and nasal steroid sprays. Also, the newer generation antihistamines have nondrowsy formulations and are therefore better for those who need them at school and at work. The older versions tend to make most people sleepy.

Q: What about air purifiers?
A: Air purifiers are great. But you have to understand that if you have an air purifier in the bedroom, it’s only going to clean the air around a perimeter of a few feet, and you still have to deal with the air when you leave your house, which is polluted. However, for bed¬rooms and work areas, patients find them very effective. Don’t forget that it is important to regularly change the filters.

Q: The rates of both allergies and asthma have climbed in recent decades. Does current research tell us why?
A: All upper and lower respiratory tract diseases are increasing. One reason is that global warming is causing allergens to peak, so pollen counts are higher each year as a result. People who are sensitive to pollen will have worse allergies.

Another reason is that “super infections” are on the rise because people take antibiotics when they don’t need them or don’t finish all their prescribed antibiotics. The result is more resistant organisms that cause worse sinus infections you have these super organisms, as they call them.

We also have an increase in pollution, with so many more cars on the road and so many more factories. Pollution doesn’t cause allergies, but it does cause inflammation and swelling in the nose and sinuses, and worsens allergy symptoms. Common irritants include cigarette smoke and burning coal in addition to car and factory exhaust.

Reference: WebMD the Magazine, By Michael W. Smith, MD

Online Resources:

American Lung Association




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