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Healthy Balance

Breathe Easy: Asthma Doesn’t Have to Control Your Life

Do you have problems controlling your asthma, or your child’s asthma?

If your asthma symptoms aren’t under control, even with medication, you need to see an allergy and respiratory medicine specialist.It doesn’t have to be that way.

Asthma is controllable, according to Julia Wisniewski, MD, a junior investigator with UVA’s Division of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology.

“Not using the stairs, frequent visits to the emergency room or missing work or school because of your asthma is unacceptable,” she says. “Every person with asthma needs to know how to manage their asthma symptoms before they get out of control.”

When Should I See an Allergy and Respiratory Medicine Specialist?

If your asthma symptoms aren’t under control, even with medication, you need to see an allergy and respiratory medicine specialist. You should see a specialist if:

  • You use your quick-acting rescue medicine (like albuterol) more than twice a week.
  • You wake up with symptoms more than two nights a week.
  • You’ve limited any of your daily activities, including exercise.

“Our goal is to control your asthma so you can be physically active and live a normal life,” says Wisniewski.

Asthma Triggers

Many patients have triggers that make their asthma worse. These include:

  • Viral respiratory infections
  • Allergen exposure (like pets, dust mites, seasonal allergies)
  • Cigarette smoke exposure
  • Weather changes
  • Physical activity
  • Irritants, including cleaning products, perfumes and other chemicals

Allergy and respiratory medicine specialists can help you identify these triggers and minimize their effect on your symptoms.

Pets: You only need to get rid of a pet in very extreme cases, says Wisniewski. For starters, don’t let your pet sleep in the bedroom and clean common hiding spots for cat and dog dander, such as carpeting and upholstered furniture. For some patients, shots or immunotherapy may help you keep your furry family member.

Dust Mites: A HEPA filter won’t remove dust mites. You need to encase mattresses and pillows in allergen-proof covers and wash bedding in hot water each week.

Physical Activity for Asthma Patients

Exercise often is a trigger for asthma symptoms, but physical activity is necessary. In fact, it’s especially important to get your condition under control so you can exercise, says Donna Wolf, PhD, a clinical research coordinator with UVA’s Pulmonary Division. Not doing mild exercise like brisk walking actually worsens your asthma in the long run, she says. Exercise can improve your lung capacity and boost your immune system.

“If you find yourself avoiding stairs or saying, ‘I can’t play with my kids,’ that is the sign you need to be seen by a specialist,” says Wolf.

Exercise Tips for Asthma Patients: These are the exercise tips Wolf and Wisniewski recommend for asthma patients. (Of course, you should check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.)

  • Continue or start an exercise program.
  • Take your inhaler medication 15 minutes before you exercise if exercise is one of your triggers.
  • Have your rescue inhaler handy (keep it with you at the gym or put it in your pocket when you go for a walk or jog outside).
  • If you’re allergic to pollen, be cautious about exercising outside when the pollen count is high. If you’re exercising indoors, be aware that pollen can come inside when the windows are open.

Check Back Here Next Week: Wolf, who is also an exercise physiologist, has a lot more advice for asthma patients who want to exercise.

Your Asthma Action Plan

Asthma patients at UVA get their own personalized Asthma Action Plan, says Wolf.

The plan helps patients know if they need to use their rescue inhaler or nebulizer (a machine that delivers medication in a mist), when they need to take a higher dose of prescription medication and when they should call their doctor and possibly get oral steroids.

Following the action plan reduces the likelihood of going to the emergency room or missing school or work. “You can control your symptoms before you’re in trouble,” says Wisniewski.

Asthma Medication Costs

Many asthma medications are expensive. If you have a problem paying for your inhaler or your co-pay is too high, ask your doctor. Chances are, there’s a lower-cost alternative that will work just as well, says Wolf. “We can probably find you something that’s going to work.”

Think You Need to Make an Appointment?

UVA’s Asthma, Allergy and Immunology Clinic treats adult and pediatric severe asthma patients in a special clinic once a week. The clinic also conducts research studies for people with asthma and allergies.

Make an appointment: Call 434.924.2227. (For questions about studies, call 434.924.6874.)

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