Cobb & Douglas Public Health, in conjunction with the Cobb 2020 and Live Healthy Douglas coalitions and community partners, has focused asthma efforts on reducing second-hand exposure and securing no idling zones at schools. CDPH has also worked closely with Breathe Easy Homes to increase awareness of second hand smoke exposure and other asthma triggers and encouraged multi-housing unit complexes to adopt smoke-free policies for the benefit of the health of all of their residents.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic condition that involves inflammation of the airways. The airways are tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs. If you have asthma, the airways can become inflamed and narrowed at times. People with asthma have airways that are hyperresponsive, meaning that the airways react to asthma triggers such as colds, cigarette smoke, and exercise faster and more intensely than people whose airways are normal.
When the airways react, the lining of the airways become inflamed, the muscles around them tighten, causing a narrowing of the airways, and the cells in the airways might make more mucus than usual. These reactions cause less air flow into the lungs making it harder to breathe.
Asthma is more common and more severe among children, women, low-income and inner-city residents, and African-American and Puerto Rican communities. In addition to considerable impacts on quality of life, the economic cost of asthma is sizeable. Direct medical costs (such as hospital admissions, emergency room visits, and the cost of pharmaceuticals) and indirect costs (such as time lost from work, school absenteeism, and premature death) weigh heavily on individuals, health care systems, and schools.
Most people with asthma go for periods of time without any symptoms, then have a sudden asthma episode or attack. The attack happens in your body’s airways, which are the paths that carry air to your lungs. As the air moves through your lungs, the airways become smaller, like the branches of a tree are smaller than the tree trunk. During an asthma attack, the sides of the airways in your lungs swell and the airways shrink. Less air gets in and out of your lungs, and mucous that your body makes clogs up the airways. Signs and symptoms of asthma vary from person to person. They may also vary for a person depending on which trigger they have been exposed to.
Primary symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
- Nighttime coughing (dry or with sputum)
Emergency care should be sought if any of the following are experienced:
- Extreme difficulty breathing or stopping breathing
- Bluish color to the lips, fingernails, and face, called cyanosis
- Struggling to talk or stay awake
- Chest retractions (having to strain your chest muscles to breathe)
Causes & Triggers
Although there is no cure for asthma, most people can control asthma so that they have fewer symptoms and can live healthy, active lives. An asthma attack can happen when you are exposed to “asthma triggers” or something to which you are sensitized. Your triggers can be very different from those of someone else with asthma. You may react to just one trigger or you may find that several things act as triggers. Knowing your triggers and learning how to avoid them are simple actions you can take to manage your asthma.
Some of the most common triggers are:
- Pollen from trees, grasses, and plants
- Animal dander and saliva
- Dust mites
- Tobacco smoke
- Wood burning smoke
- Household chemicals
- Strong odors and fragrances
- Air pollution
- Viral infections such as flu, cold, or Covid
- Sulfites (used as a preservative in foods)
- Cold air or extreme weather changes
- Extreme emotions such as crying or laughing
Medications for asthma are prescribed for two different purposes: to stop an immediate attack and to control inflammation and reduce lung damage over the long term. Quick-relief medications, also known as bronchodilators, provide immediate relief of asthma symptoms and can be used to prevent symptoms if used before exposure to an asthma trigger, such as exercise. While long-term control medications, also known as controllers, are usually taken daily to maintain inflammation and prevent flare-ups.
Asthma medicines can be taken in different forms, but most are taken using a device called an inhaler. An inhaler is a hand-held portable device that delivers medication to your lungs. Make sure you are using yours right so that you get the medicine you need. The best way to use an inhaler is with a spacer or chamber. It serves as a holding chamber for the medication that is sprayed by the inhaler. The spacer makes it easier and more efficient for the medication to reach the lungs. Watch “Know How to Use Your Asthma Inhaler” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as ask your doctor to show you the right way to use your inhaler.