Don't Let Asthma Take Your Breath Away

By Martine Eon BS, RRT, NPS, RPSGT, AE-C

Asthma affects 1 in every 11 children and 1 in every 10 adults in Maine. Asthma causes a significant number of missed school days and is the fourth most common reason to miss work. Untreated or undertreated asthma is the cause for many emergency room visits and hospitalizations every year and may be deadly. And the number of asthma cases continues to rise, making this condition one of the leading public health problems in Maine.

Below are some things to consider if you think you or someone you know may have asthma and, if so, how to keep your asthma under control.

Is it really asthma?

Many things can cause a person to wheeze and feel short of breath. It may not be asthma. It’s important to be sure what’s causing your shortness of breath so you don’t end up taking the wrong medicine for the wrong disease. Your doctor or nurse can do a spirometry test to confirm whether or not it’s asthma. This is an easy and painless test that has you breathe out into a tube to see how much air you can move out of your lungs. Spirometry can be done in your doctor’s office or in a hospital pulmonary function lab. 

How is asthma treated?

Asthma can be treated with different kinds of medicine. Some are pills but most are medicines you inhale, or breathe in. Depending on how often you have asthma symptoms, your doctor or nurse will determine if you have intermittent asthma (only bothers you sometimes) or persistent asthma (bothers you at least twice per week). Once you and your doctor know what kind of asthma you have, you can get prescribed the right medicine to control your symptoms. Asthma should never limit your ability to do the things you enjoy. 

Managing your asthma

  1. Know your triggers A trigger is anything that starts your asthma symptoms. Tobacco smoke, dust mites, pets, mold, colds, strong odors and pollen are only a few irritants that can trigger your asthma.
  2. Know your medicines, what they do and how to take them correctly. Research studies show that very few patients take their inhaler medicines correctly, so if you are not sure how to take your medicine, you are not alone! Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist to show you how.
  3. Follow your asthma action plan. This plan tells you when to take your medicines, when to call your doctor and when to call 911. 
  4. Use your peak flow meter. A peak flow meter is a simple device that you breathe into to see how much air you are able to breathe out. It tells you when youre in the trouble zone, and may help you take care of your asthma before it gets bad enough to require an emergency room visit or hospitalization.
  5. Keep an asthma diary. An asthma diary helps you keep track of your symptoms and what may trigger your asthma. 

Living well with asthma

You can live well with asthma and do all of the activities you enjoy doing. When you make healthy food choices, exercise at least 30 minutes every day, avoid all tobacco and vaping products and take your asthma medicines correctly, you can keep your asthma symptoms under control.

Martine Eon is a respiratory therapist with 30 years experience and is currently the Clinical Lung Specialist and certified asthma educator at MaineHealth. 

The health educators at the Learning Resource Center are happy to help. They provide trusted & reliable health information and connect people to local resources in the community. Connect with a health educator today! Be well, be well informed.

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