A person can develop asthma at any age and there is no way of knowing for sure who will get it. There are risk factors for asthma that you cannot control and some that you can. If you are a prospective parent or if you have children already, there are some additional things you can do to reduce the risk of your children developing asthma.
As an adult, you can reduce your risk of developing asthma by limiting the risk factors that you have control over. This is especially important if you have any of the non-controllable risk factors such as a family history of asthma or allergies, having allergies yourself, African American or Puerto Rican ancestry, or low birth weight. The known risk factors that you may be able to control include: obesity; gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD); exposure to tobacco smoke, environmental irritants, mold, dust, feather beds, or perfume; and occupational triggers, such as chemicals used in manufacturing. Losing weight if you are obese is a good way to reduce risk. If you have GERD, losing weight may actually alleviate your GERD symptoms as well. Avoiding all possible irritants is difficult, but limiting your exposure, especially long-term exposure, as much as possible can help reduce your risk for developing asthma.
If you have children or plan on starting a family, you can reduce the risk of your children developing asthma by limiting their asthma risk factors. This is especially important if you or another close relative has asthma or allergies because this means your children are already at increased risk. Risk factors that you may or not be able to control include low birth weight, frequent respiratory infections in childhood, growing up in a low-income environment, and living in a large urban area. The risk factors that you can control include: exposure to tobacco smoke before birth or as an infant and exposure to environmental irritants, mold, dust, feather beds, or perfume.
If you already have asthma, there is no cure, but there are steps you can take to prevent asthma attacks.
The best way to prevent asthma attacks is to identify your asthma triggers and do your very best to avoid them. If you have allergic asthma, you can get tested for allergies and find out what substances provoke the biggest reactions for you, and then try to avoid them. Whether you have allergic asthma or not, certain allergens and irritants tend to worsen asthma symptoms in most asthma patients and you can do your best to avoid them. These include:
-- Tobacco smoke
-- Dust mites
-- Mold spores
-- Pet dander
-- Irritating fumes
-- Cold air
For some people with asthma, avoiding allergens and irritants may be sufficient to keep most of their symptoms at bay. For most asthma sufferers, other steps are needed. Seeing your doctor regularly is the best way to determine an asthma action plan that is right for you. This means going back for regular checkups to make sure the plan you are using is still optimal. Doctors are very knowledgeable but they cannot always predict how each individual patient will react to medications or how their symptoms will change over time. The doctor may need to make adjustments to your plan several times before the two of you discover an optimal management plan for your disease. Even then, things can change so it is important to keep the lines of communication with your doctor open.
Your asthma action plan will include key elements like a medication regimen for both long-acting and quick-relief medications and on methods you can use to avoid exposure to triggers. It will also include methods to help you anticipate asthma attacks and, over time, you may be able to feel subtle changes in your breathing that warn of an impending asthma attack. The sooner you administer quick-relief medications such as your fast-acting inhaler, the sooner you will start relief and the less severe the attack will be. When the peak flow meter indicates an attack is beginning, take your medications as soon as possible and, if it's possible, remove yourself from the environment that caused the attack.
If your asthma symptoms occur only during exercise (exercise-induced asthma / bronchospasm), you should have an asthma action plan for managing your symptoms. This plan may primarily consist of medications that you use before beginning to exercise (e.g. SABAs or LABAs) or it may include long term control therapy if your symptoms are frequent or severe. A warm-up period prior to exercising may also help to reduce your symptoms and a mask or scarf over the mouth may lessen cold-induced exercise-related asthma attacks.
If you have asthma, some events may carry a higher risk of complications for you than for those who do not have asthma. Two examples are pregnancy and surgery, which are discussed below.
Pregnancy causes major changes in hormone levels and it can cause changes to your asthma symptoms. However, pregnancy does not affect all women with allergies in the same way. About one third of women with asthma experience improvement of their symptoms while they are pregnant, about one third have their symptoms get worse, and the other third stay about the same. If your asthma is mild to begin with and it is well- controlled during pregnancy, there is a good chance you will not have any attacks while you are pregnant. Talk to your doctor about your pregnancy to discuss any changes that will be necessary to your medications or other aspects of your treatment. In general, inhaled drugs may be used during pregnancy, whereas you may have to stop taking pills or other treatments that could cross the placenta.
The danger in pregnancy is that if your symptoms are not well controlled, the amount of oxygen you can breathe in is reduced. Pregnant women have about 50% more blood than normal and all that blood needs to be oxygenated. Less oxygen and more blood means reduced oxygen supply to the developing baby and may result in serious problems. Talk with your doctor and take all necessary steps to control your asthma while you are pregnant to limit the chance that your asthma will affect your unborn child.
If you have moderate or severe asthma, you are at higher risk of developing problems during and after having surgery than people who do not have asthma. If you have asthma and are planning to have surgery, talk with your doctor about preparations you can take to avoid asthma problems during and after the surgery. Make sure your symptoms are well controlled leading up to the surgery and tell your doctor if they are not. You may need to take some additional medication such as corticosteroids for a short time to improve lung function before surgery and prevent complications.