If you have asthma, there’s one thing you can be sure of – you’re definitely not alone. Statistics compiled by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology show nearly 34.1 million Americans are diagnosed with asthma by an allergist or other health professional during their lifetime and more than 11 million Americans suffer an asthma attack each year. Unfortunately, many patients are unaware that they have asthma and may be undiagnosed, making these numbers even higher.
Approximately 70 percent of asthma patients also have allergies. About a third of America’s asthma sufferers are under 18 years of age and asthma rates have increased sharply among urban dwellers over the past two decades. It’s the leading cause of absenteeism from school.
Each year in the United States, asthma is responsible for:
Upwards of 4,000 deaths
More than 500,000 hospitalizations
More than 12 million missed days of school
More than 10 million missed days of work for adults
A quarter of all U.S. emergency room visits
Nearly $20 billion in medical expenses and related direct/indirect costs
Asthma is a chronic disease that inflames and narrows the airways causing wheezing, shortness of breath, tightening in the chest and coughing. There are two main causes of asthma: airway constriction and airway inflammation. Constriction is a tightening of the muscles around the airways of the lungs that makes breathing difficult. Inflammation is the constant swelling of the airways themselves. This swelling worsens when an asthma patient comes into contact with a certain irritant or experiences an asthma attack.
There are several different types of asthma. While the symptoms of asthma may be the same among the various types, each may require different asthma treatments. Allergic asthma is brought on by an allergic reaction to a trigger such as dust mites, pet dander, pollen, and some over-the-counter medications such as aspirin. Non-allergic asthma is exacerbated primarily by air pollutants such as cigarette smoke, wood smoke and substances with strong scents such as perfumes, room deodorizers, cleaning products and fresh paint. Sudden dips in temperatures and exercise also can trigger nonallergic asthma. Nocturnal asthma involves worsening symptoms in the middle of the night, primarily because of the naturally-occurring nightly dip in your body’s adrenaline and cortisol levels. Occupational asthma is uncommon but may be caused by exposure to chemicals, animal proteins and other substances at your workplace.
An asthma specialist can appropriately diagnose your asthma using several tests. The most important is the clinical judgment and experience of the specialist. Testing for asthma also includes peak flow measurement or using a more detailed measure called pulmonary function testing, lung function testing or spirometry. Another novel diagnostic test used at Allergy & Asthma Specialists of North Florida is measurement of exhaled nitric oxide (eNO). This is a non-invasive measure of airway inflammation. Identifying your triggers by allergy testing is of utmost importance since the majority of all asthma is caused by allergy.
Once specific allergy triggers are indentified, your allergy specialist can help you regain control of your environment by developing a plan to reduce exposure to those triggers. Quick-relief asthma treatments are designed to stop airway constriction and typically are inhalers, though some come in pill form. Preventative asthma treatments focus on reducing inflammation of the airways, improving overall lung function and helping to ward off asthma symptoms and asthma attacks. Omalizumab (Xolair) is a novel treatment for asthma which blocks an important mediator of allergic asthma called IgE and may be used by your allergy specialist if you have severe asthma to minimize asthma attacks. Allergy shots (immunotherapy) provide long-term control of allergic triggers and may prevent the development and worsening of asthma in children.
There is no cure, but with the right asthma treatment, your asthma symptoms can be managed, affording you a full, active and healthy lifestyle. For relief from your asthma, schedule an appointment at Allergy & Asthma Specialists of North Florida today. We have four convenient locations in the Jacksonville area: University Boulevard, Mandarin, Westside and Orange Park.