November 30, 2017

If you live with asthma, you know controlling your symptoms isn’t always easy. You could be outside, enjoying a game of basketball with some friends and, before you know it, you find yourself having a flare-up or an asthma attack.

The keys to controlling asthma’s effects on your daily life are being able to identify signs of an attack and managing your home and/or work environment to avoid sudden flare-ups.

“Knowing and recognizing the early signs of an asthma attack can save your life,” said Selina Lopez, registered respiratory therapist and health educator for the Texas A&M Coastal Bend Health Education Center’s Asthma Education Program.

What are the symptoms of an asthma attack?

The most common symptoms of an asthma attack are wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. When a person with asthma wheezes, a whistling sound is heard when inhaling or exhaling. Asthmatic coughing may be persistent and can often happen at night or early morning. Chest tightness typically feels like something is squeezing or sitting on your chest. Someone who is short of breath feels like they can’t catch their breath.

Asthma symptoms can vary from person to person. Also, symptoms can differ over time in both regularity and severity.

What can trigger an asthma attack?

For some, signs of a flare-up or asthma attack can occur in certain situations such as exercise, their workplace environment and from airborne allergens.

Exercise-induced asthma can be worse if the air is exceptionally cold or dry. Lopez suggests wearing a scarf or neck warmer to avoid inhaling cold air while outside. She also says to try drinking warm water while outside in the cold.

Chemicals, gases and dust are common triggers in the workplace.

“Those with asthma need to be aware of potential triggers in their work areas,” said Lopez. She also suggests improving ventilation at work by opening a window or turning on a fan.  

Reducing triggers in the home, as well as avoiding them as much as possible elsewhere, gives those with asthma more control over their symptoms. 

“Keeping your home clean and free from dust and other triggers can reduce asthma symptoms,” said Lopez. “Use safe cleaning products in your home such as soap, vinegar and water. Harsh chemicals, like bleach and strongly scented cleaners, can irritate your lungs.”

The Environmental Protection Agency warns against mixing cleaning products, such as bleach with ammonia, because it can create hazardous fumes.

Pet dander, cockroach feces, pollen and mold can trigger allergy-induced asthma.

“Those sensitive to allergens should use mattress and pillow covers to keep dust mites and pet dander away from where they sleep,” said Lopez.

When you effectively handle your asthma symptoms and remove triggers from your environment, you have the freedom to participate in the activities you enjoy without having to worry as much about flare-ups and attacks and not having to rely on your rescue medicine or inhaler as much.

For more information on the Coastal Bend Health Education Center's Asthma Education Class, call 361-561-8670 or visit healthytexas.tamu.edu/asthma.

-Les D. Cockrell