Allergies and Asthma Treatment Overview

You have been referred to an asthma specialist...
....Here is what to expect:

h-allergyTestingYou have been referred to an allergist because you have-or may have - ASTHMA. The health professional who referred you wants you to receive the most accurate diagnosis and experienced asthma care.

Allergists are physicians who have advanced training and experience in the diagnosis and treatment of asthma and allergies. An Allergist will work with you to determine whether you have asthma, how severe it may be, the factors that can trigger an episode or "attack", and a course of treatment to eliminate or control asthma symptoms.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung disease in which the linings of the airways become inflamed and swollen, and muscle spasms restrict the flow of air to the lungs. Asthma is a relatively common condition, and the incidence of the disease has grown in recent years. Currently, it is estimated that 12 million Americans-including more than 4 million children-have the disease.

If you have asthma, your symptoms may include difficulty breathing, a tight feeling in the chest, coughing and wheezing. Sometimes a chronic cough is the only symptom, and many cases of the disease go undiagnosed. The symptoms of asthma are most frequently noted at night and in the morning, but an asthma episode can happen at any time. Symptoms can range from mild discomfort to life threatening attacks in which breathing stops all together.

Fortunately, with new medications and other treatments, an allergist can design a plan to manage the disease that will prevent severe symptoms in most patients and enable them to live normal active lives.

What causes asthma?

Although the exact cause of asthma is not fully understood, there are a number of factors that are known to trigger an asthma episode, such as:

  • Exposure to allergens-substances that cause an allergic reaction in some individuals. Common allergens include pollen, dust, mold, feathers, animal dander and some foods.
  • Irritants in the air such as smoke, dirt, gases and odors.
  • Respiratory infections such as colds, bronchitis, sinusitis, flu or other illnesses.
  • Exercise- although people with asthma can benefit from an exercise program with pretreatment and proper monitoring.
  • Emotional stress.
  • Cold, windy weather or sudden changes in the weather.

How is asthma diagnosed?

When you visit an allergist you can expect the doctor to:

Take a detailed medical history. Ask you about your attacks, how often they occur and what seems to trigger them. Perform a thorough physical examination. Perform special tests such as peak flow monitoring or pulmonary functioning testing that measure the power of your lungs, and perhaps order and or recommend additional tests if needed, such as chest X-rays, blood tests or allergy tests.

How is asthma treated?

If you are diagnosed with asthma, you and your allergist will work as partners to design a plan for managing the disease.

Although there is no cure for asthma, there are a number of actions you can take to prevent or control its symptoms, such as:

Taking medications

The appropriate prescription and use of asthma medications is a crucial component of successful asthma management. The medications your doctor prescribes for you will depend on the frequency and severity of your asthma and on the factors that trigger or aggravate your symptoms.

Some of the medications used to treat asthma are:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs reduce inflammation in the airways, which improve lung function and act to prevent asthma episodes. Corticosteroids are one of the newest and most frequently prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs. Some of these medications are inhaled and others are taken in oral form.
  • Bronchodilators are medicines that are inhaled or taken by mouth to relax the muscles and open up the airways. These medications are sometimes called "rescuers" because they relieve symptoms and improve breathing during an asthma attack.
  • Anti-allergy medication may be given to prevent the allergic reactions that trigger asthma in some people.
  • Immunotherapy may be helpful for some patients whose asthma is triggered by allergies.

Controlling your environment

Once you and your allergist have identified factors that trigger an episode of asthma, you can explore strategies for removing or reducing asthma triggers in your environment. This might include stopping smoking and avoiding polluted environments, avoiding exposure to colds and other respiratory illnesses, and eliminating or reducing exposure to certain allergens.

Monitoring your condition

Your allergist will regularly monitor your lung function and other health factors to assess the status of your asthma and the effectiveness of your treatment plan. In some cases, the allergist may show you how to use a device called a peak flow meter and ask you to take readings of your lung function at home.

What can I expect from treatment?

The good news is, with proper diagnosis and treatment by an asthma specialist, most people with the disease can pursue normal lifestyles.

With proper treatment, you can expect to:

  • Get a full night's sleep without disruptive coughing episodes, and awake with a clear chest in the morning.
  • Avoid acute asthma "attacks" and eliminate the need for emergency room visits or hospitalization for your asthma.
  • Prevent days missed from work or school because of asthma.
  • Lead a normal life, including full physical activity.