Asthma is a potentially serious respiratory condition that affects millions of people in this country. With fellowship training in pulmonary medicine, Meena Mehta, MD.FCCP, in Concord, Massachusetts is uniquely qualified to help her patients not only understand their disease but learn to manage it, as well. For most, that will mean going through the extensive process of identifying triggers and finding ways to avoid them. A combination of medical management and lifestyle changes can help asthma sufferers thrive despite their condition.
Asthma is a respiratory condition that causes the airways, the tubes that allow air to enter the lungs, swell and clog with excess mucus. Asthma occurs in varying degrees. For some, it’s barely noticeable but for others, it becomes a life-long struggle to breathe. It interferes with their quality of life and may even become life-threatening. Specialists like Dr. Mehta and nurse practitioner Li Chin Sun, NP-C, work with patients to develop strategies that help them live fuller lives and stay safe.
It's unclear why some people develop this breathing disorder, but the current theory supports a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Most asthma patients react to triggers – something in the environment that stimulates an immune system response like an allergy. When exposed, their airways swell, and they struggle to breathe. In severe cases, the airways close completely.
Anything can trigger an episode, but there are some common irritants such as:
Even secondary conditions can work as a trigger such as GERD, stress or a respiratory infection. Some patients only have problems when exercising. A comprehensive treatment plan would include identifying irritants and learning to avoid them when possible.
It will start with a physical exam. Dr. Mehta will want to rule out other respiratory conditions like COPD. She may decide to do lung function tests to measure how well the patient moves air, too. Spirometry tests how narrow the airways get as you breathe and the peak flow meter checks to see how hard you expel air. As part of the diagnostic process, Dr. Mehta might also order allergy testing to identify triggers.
The treatment plan will vary from patient to patient based on the severity of the condition and known triggers. Most patients will carry a quick-relief inhaler containing albuterol to manage sudden symptoms. For mild sufferers from intermittent symptoms, that plus a few lifestyle changes may be all that is necessary. Those with more severe symptoms will require aggressive medical management for their asthma including a long-term asthma control medication such as inhaled corticosteroids or long-acting beta agonists.