How is Asthma Treated?
Asthma is a chronic disease that cannot be cured. But medicines and lifestyle changes can help control the symptoms. One way to help relieve asthma is to avoid things in the environment that make symptoms worse. A number of types of medicines are also used to treat asthma. Most work by opening the lung airways and reducing inflammation.
The medicines used to treat asthma fall into two groups: quick-relief and long-term control.
Quick relief medicines are used only when needed. They should be taken when symptoms are getting worse to prevent a full-blown asthma attack. They can also be used to stop attacks once they have started. These medicines relieve symptoms in minutes. Short-acting inhaled bronchodilators (albuterol and pirbuterol) are two commonly used quick relief medicines. They quickly relax tightened muscles around the airways.
Long-term control medicines or controller medicines are taken every day, usually over a long period of time. Over time, these medicines relieve symptoms and prevent asthma attacks in those with mild or moderate persistent asthma.
These medications help control inflammation in the lungs. To be effective, they must be used every day. These medicines are not intended to relieve symptoms immediately. Some may even take a few weeks to have their full effect.
Some long-term control medicines include:
- Cromolyn and nedocromil - These inhaled medicines keep airways from swelling when a person comes in contact with a trigger.
- Corticosteroids - These medicines can be inhaled or taken in a pill form. They can prevent and decrease swelling in the airways. Corticosteroids can also decrease the amount of mucus.
- Anti-leukotrienes - These medicines come in a pill. They open the airways, control swelling and inflammation, and reduce mucus.
- Long-acting beta 2 bronchodilators - Over time, these inhaled medicines help relieve symptoms. They are often combined with anti-inflammatory medicines
Staying away from triggers, taking your medicine consistently, and regular visits to the doctor will help you take control of asthma.
I just found out I'm pregnant, should I still take my asthma medicines?
It is very important to call your doctor as soon as you find out you're pregnant. As your doctor will explain, it is extremely important to manage your asthma symptoms when you are pregnant. Taking asthma medicines and avoiding triggers helps make sure the baby gets enough oxygen. Untreated asthma can harm a growing fetus.
Many asthma medicines seem to be safe for use during pregnancy. Inhaled medicines are usually preferred for pregnant women. These medicines are less likely to be passed on to the baby than oral medicines. However, sometimes pregnant women need oral medicines to control symptoms. Talk with your doctor about the safety of asthma medicines during pregnancy. You should also talk to your doctor about getting a flu shot after the first trimester. The flu can be very serious for pregnant women with asthma.
Symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
If you smoke, have a cough that won't go away, and shortness of breath see your doctor. To figure out if you have COPD, doctors usually:
- Ask about your family and personal health history.
- Do a physical exam.
- Run some pulmonary function tests.
- Perform spirometry testing. During this test, the doctor uses a machine called a spirometer to see how well you breathe. This test measures how much air you can blow out of your lungs. It also records how fast you can exhale it.
- Perform bronchodilator reversibility testing. During this test you will inhale a medicine called a bronchodilator. Then the doctor uses a spirometer to measure how this medicine affects your breathing. Bronchodilators relax muscles around the airways making it easier to breathe.
Your doctor may also suggest other tests like chest x rays to make sure something else is not causing your problems. X rays may allow the doctor to see if another lung disease or heart disease is causing your symptoms.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Treatment
The damage to the lungs in COPD cannot be repaired. But treatment can relieve symptoms. The only thing that can slow the progress of the disease is to stop smoking. So if you're a smoker, the single most important thing you can do is stop smoking. This slows down COPD and minimizes future damage to the lungs.
Medicines can also help you feel better. Common medicines used to treat COPD include:
- Bronchodilators. These medicines open up air passages in the lungs.
- Inhaled steroids. These medicines relieve symptoms by reducing inflammation in the lungs.
- Antibiotics. These medicines are used to clear up infections in the lungs.
Sometimes doctors also recommend the following for women with COPD:
- Get a flu shot every year. Influenza can cause serious problems for people with COPD.
- Get the pneumococcal vaccine. This vaccine reduces the risk of some kinds of pneumonia.
- Pulmonary rehabilitation. Pulmonary rehabilitation is a program that helps people cope physically and mentally with COPD. It can include exercise, training to manage the disease, diet advice and counseling.
- Oxygen therapy. Oxygen therapy helps women with severe COPD. Oxygen is inhaled through a mask or a tube connected to a tank filled with 100% oxygen. This extra oxygen helps them breathe easier, sleep better, and live longer.
- Surgery. Sometimes surgery can help people with severe COPD feel better. Lung transplant surgery is becoming more common for people with severe emphysema. Another procedure called lung volume reduction surgery is also used to treat a small subset of people with severe COPD of the emphysema type. In this surgery, a part of the lung is removed.
Lung Cancer Signs
Usually there are no warning signs of early lung cancer. But if there is a sign, it is usually a cough. By the time most women have symptoms, the lung cancer often has advanced to more serious stages.
Symptoms of lung cancer may include:
- a cough that doesn't go away or gets worse
- coughing up blood
- frequent chest pain
- hoarseness or wheezing
- frequent problems with bronchitis or pneumonia
- loss of appetite or weight loss
If you have any of these problems, call your doctor as soon as possible. The doctor will ask about your personal and family health history, smoking history, and exposure to harmful substances. She will also do a physical exam and may suggest some tests.
Common tests for lung cancer include:
- Chest x rays. Chest x rays allow doctors to "see" abnormal growths in the lungs.
- Computerized tomography scans, known as CT scans. A growing number of doctors use CT scans to diagnose lung cancer. CT scans are more powerful than standard x rays. CT images can reveal subtle signs of cancer that don't show up on x rays. This boosts the chances of finding cancer in its early, more treatable, stages.
- Biopsy. In this test, the doctor removes a small piece of lung tissue and studies it under a microscope. There are many ways to take a biopsy including:
- Bronchoscopy is often used to remove lung tissue for a biopsy. Doctors put a special tube called a bronchoscope into the nose or mouth and down through the throat. They can see the lungs and remove a sample of tissue with this tube.
- Sputum Cytology is another way to do a lung biopsy. In this test, doctors study a sample of mucus that is coughed up. The mucus may contain cancer cells.
I smoke, should I get tested for Lung Cancer?
Talk to your doctor. Some doctors suggest testing smokers over 50 years of age for lung cancer. But experts still are not sure if routine testing/screening saves or prolongs lives.
Testing for cancer before a person has any symptoms is called screening. Screening tends to find cancers early when it is easier to cure and treat. Screening high-risk groups, such as smokers for lung cancer is a controversial issue.
Many studies show that using x rays to screen smokers for lung cancer does not save lives. For this reason, the National Cancer Institute and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) do not recommend screening for lung cancer. It is important to note that the USPSTF does not recommend against screening either. More studies are needed to show the exact risks and benefits of screening for lung cancer. Some groups do recommend screening in at-risk groups including smokers over 45-years and people exposed to lung-damaging substances at work.
Computerized tomography scans (CT scans) show promise as a screening tool. The National Cancer Institute is doing an important study called the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) to answer important questions about routine testing for lung cancer. This study will show if screening with CT scans and/or chest x rays can save lives.
Lung Cancer Treatment
Most lung cancer is hard to treat. The best way to fight lung cancer is to never start smoking or to stop smoking. If you need help to stop smoking, talk to your doctor. A government website all about quitting smoking can also help you kick the habit.
Lung cancer can be treated in a number of different ways including a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Most of the time treatment does not cure the cancer but stops it from spreading and relieves symptoms. Your specific treatment will depend on:
- kind of lung cancer,
- where the cancer is and if it has spread to other parts of the body,
- your age,
- and overall health.
Radiation therapy uses a machine to aim high-energy x rays at the tumor. This energy kills cancer cells. Radiation therapy can relieve pain and make a person feel better.
Chemotherapy uses medicine to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy medicines can be injected into a vein or taken as a pill.
Surgery is used to remove tumors.