“Asthma is characterized by episodes of airflow obstruction causing chest tightness, wheezing, chronic cough, phlegm production, and shortness of breath. In between episodes, asthmatics can often feel normal without much, if any, pulmonary symptoms. Patients with well controlled asthma will have little long-term damage to their lungs. However, patients with poorly controlled symptoms can experience fixed or permanent airflow obstruction. Asthma exacerbations, also known as an asthma attack, is defined as a significant increase in asthma symptoms. Triggers for an asthma attack can include viral infections, exposures to allergies and poor air quality, just to name a few. Patients will often require urgent or emergent medical attention and medications, including oral steroids, short acting inhalers and possible antibiotics. If you think you’re experiencing that asthma exacerbation, it’s important to seek medical care immediately, as this can be a life-threatening condition. It’s not uncommon for patients with an asthma exacerbation to require an hospitalization with additional oxygen support.
Once an asthma exacerbation is treated, focus should then be on how to prevent future exacerbations from occurring. A useful tool to monitor asthma symptoms is a peak flow meter. This is a simple handheld device that can be purchased online or given to you through your doctor’s office. Patients are asked to exhale rapidly into the peak flow device. This provides an indirect measurement of airway obstruction in your lungs. Your doctor will provide guidance on the values you should be meeting with exhalation into your peak flow device based on your age and height. Decreased values over time could signal worsening lung function and the need to increase inhaler medications.”