What Does Asthma Feel Like?

In the pharmacy, I have had people describe an asthma attack as: 
  • It feels like I am suffocating.
  • It is as if an elephant is sitting on my chest, crushing and I can’t catch a breath.
  • If you can imagine a fish out of water, unable to filter any oxygen and unable to breath.
  • Wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and chest tightness.
It is interesting to note that asthma affects more than 24 million people in the United States and is the most common chronic child hood disease afflicting over 7 million children.  This disease involves airway inflammation, partial or complete airway obstruction, and an over active responsiveness of the bronchioles. 

Many different pharmacologic agents are available, and are used in a “step-up” fashion to treat asthma.  The treatment plan for any specific patient is dependent upon which stage of asthma the patient is in: 
  1. Mild intermittent
  2. Mild Persistent
  3. Moderate Persistent
  4. Severe Persistent
Each stage has its own set of parameters, including symptoms or the severity of the symptoms.  As patient progresses from one stage to the next, the level of treatment also progresses. 

My goal is not to discuss each and every treatment option for asthma, but rather share with you the different inhaled steroid options currently available.  Inhaled corticosteroid medications are used to help prevent the symptoms of asthma, such as shortness of breath and wheezing.  These medications works by helping to decrease the inflammation and swelling in the airways of your lungs.  It is important to note, inhaled corticosteroids are not used to treat acute symptoms of a sudden attack.  If you have an acute attack of asthma, use your quick acting inhaler as prescribed to relieve your immediate symptoms.

Inhaled corticosteroids are to be used as a maintenance treatment (on a regular basis) in order to be effective in preventing asthma symptoms.  Before you begin treatment with an inhaled corticosteroid, it is important to understand how to use the inhaler.    Currently, there must be 4 or 5 different types of inhaler mechanisms for the delivery of the medication.  The inhalers come with a package insert diagram that shows you how to properly use the inhaler.  When you pick up your inhaler for the first time, be sure to have the pharmacist explain exactly how to use it.  If you have any questions at all about how to properly administer a dose of your medication or how to operate your inhaler, call your pharmacist or doctor and ask for instruction.

Rinse your mouth out with water after each administration session to help prevent a fungal infection in your mouth (sometimes called thrush), and please, do not swallow the rinse water, spit it out.  If your doctor has you using another inhaler at the same time as your corticosteroid inhaler, use the other inhaler first, and then wait a few minutes prior to using your steroid inhaler.

Be sure to keep your inhaler clean and keep count of the number of inhalations left in the container.  As we discussed earlier, if you have any questions about how to clean your inhaler or keep track of the number of doses left, ask your pharmacist or doctor to explain it to you.

Self-monitoring is an important aspect of treating asthma.  Realize that it may take up to two weeks of regular use before you recognize the full benefit of a corticosteroid inhaler.  Discuss with your doctor which symptoms require immediate follow-up and which symptoms you may continue to monitor at home.  Take the time to understand which inhalers are for the acute, difficult breathing episodes and which are to be used on a regular basis to help decrease the incidence of the acute episodes.  If you have used your inhaler for two weeks and are not seeing any improvement or your symptoms are worsening, please notify your doctor.

Self-monitoring also includes the use of a Peak Flow Meter.  This is a simple device which helps you measure, on your own, how well your lungs are working.  Proper use of a peak flow meter will help you measure your lung function on a daily basis.  Tracking your lung function may help prevent or lessen acute asthmatic situations.  If you don’t already use one, please discuss this with your doctor or pharmacist.

In order to learn about the different inhaled treatment options for Asthma or other breathing disorders, please visit www.AudibeRx.com, navigate to the Inhaler Page, and LISTEN to a Medication Specific Counseling Session about the particular medication you are interested in.


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