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  • May 29, 2019

Asthma 101

Asthma is one of the most common diseases that affect the lungs. Alexander White, MD, our chief of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine, shares some helpful tips on how to treat asthma and deal with asthma attacks.

When you have asthma, the airways of the lungs become inflamed and narrowed. This results in the typical symptoms you feel - coughing, wheezing, noisy breathing and shortness of breath. A simple breathing test can determine if you have asthma and we can perform this here at CHA.

What is an asthma attack?
An asthma attack occurs when your airways close and mucus builds up. Attacks can be caused by many factors ranging from the common cold to specific triggers such as pollen, dust, house dust mites, cold air, smoking or animal dander. Some people with environmental allergies find their asthma symptoms get worse in the Spring and Fall.

How do you prevent an asthma attack?

  • Avoid triggers if you know what will typically trigger your asthma.
  • Keep up-to-date with your vaccinations, especially the flu shot.
  • Make sure you always have your inhalers (short acting and long acting) and other treatments available.
  • Stay ahead of the need for refills. Don’t wait until the last minute, as it may take time to get the refill to your pharmacy.
  • Discuss with your doctor if having a rescue pack at home (prednisone and antibiotics) would be helpful.
  • If you are having frequent attacks, talk with your doctor to see if there are new treatments that might be appropriate for you.


How to monitor your asthma
Measure your peak flow every day and record your best number.

How to treat asthma
There are a number of asthma medications that work in different ways.

  1. Quick acting drugs like Albuterol relax the airway smooth muscle and can have an immediate effect. These quick-acting drugs can be used as needed.
  2. Steroid inhalers (like Fluticasone) reduce airway inflammation and need to be taken every day consistently. You need to always rinse out your mouth after using these inhalers to prevent fungal infection in the mouth.
  3. Other medications available include leukotriene modifiers, long-acting beta agonist drugs and Omalizumab which helps reduce allergic reactions.

Spacer devices and nebulizers can help people who have trouble managing their inhalers.

Other tips
Here are things you can do if you are having an attack as well as tips to reduce the likelihood of an attack:

  • Use your rescue inhaler ( or nebulizer if you have one) immediately.
  • Let someone know you are having a problem and be ready to call 911 for help.
  • Remember that walking or running will make an asthma attack worse so if you need to get to the hospital have someone drive you or dial 911.
  • If you are alone and are calling 911, make it clear you are having an emergency and tell the dispatcher where you are and any close landmarks you can see if you are in the open.
  • Never smoke! It is important not to smoke or inhale secondhand smoke (whether you have asthma or not). Our CHA Quit line 617-591-6922 can help if you still smoke and need to quit.
  • Stay up to date with your flu vaccination and pneumonia vaccine.

The CHA Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Division provides expert outpatient and inpatient consultation for patients with lung disease, including asthma. Just ask your primary care provider for a referral.

This articles provide general information for educational purposes only. The information provided in this article, or through linkages to other sites, is not a substitute for medical or professional care, and you should not use the information in place of a visit, call consultation or the advice of your physician or other healthcare provider.

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