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Common Questions About Asthma

Q. How does my doctor know if I have asthma?

A. To find out if you have asthma, your doctor will do the following:

      • Ask you how you have been feeling - if you cough a lot or if you find it hard to breathe sometimes

      • Ask you and your parents if other people in your family have asthma or allergies

      • Listen to your lungs with a listening device called a stethoscope

      • If you are 6 years or older, your doctor may send you for a breathing test

Q. Because I have asthma, do I need to stop exercising and playing sports?

A. If your asthma is kept under control, you should be able to run around just like everyone else.  If you do find it hard to breathe when you exercise, stop right away and take your “reliever” puffer (usually a blue puffer).  Only start again if your breathing is back to normal.  If your asthma is not under control, you should not start any exercise.


Q. Some people make fun of me because I have asthma.  What should I do?

A. Unfortunately some people do not understand what asthma is.  All it means to have asthma is that you may need some medicines for it sometimes and at times it can be harder to breathe.  Explain to them that a lot of people have asthma, including top NHL players and Olympic athletes.  They have to take medicine for it too.


Q. I have asthma.  Why is it hard for me to breathe sometimes?

A. Asthma affects the airways (air tubes) inside your lungs.  These airways bring oxygen to the rest of your body.  If your asthma is getting out of control, these airways can get smaller (narrower), making it harder to get air in and out of your lungs.  If you keep your asthma under control, your airways will be clear and open, allowing you to breathe easily.


Q. If I’m feeling great, why do I need to keep taking my asthma medicines?

A. Some asthma medicines only work if they are given every day.  These are called “controller” medicines.  They keep your lungs clear and healthy.  If you stop taking them, your asthma can start getting out of control, making it hard to breathe.

 

Q. Every winter I get a lot of colds that make my asthma worse.  Is there any way to stop getting colds.

A. Although it is probably not possible to stop from getting all colds, there are a few things that can help:

      • Wash your hands more often (colds get passed from your hands to you mouth, nose or eyes) 

      • Try to stay away from people who have a cold (especially in the first few days of a cold)

      • Eat healthy foods and sleep enough.

      • It is also a good idea to get a flu shot every fall, to help reduce the chance of getting the flu.

Q. Why do we use puffers for asthma?

A. It may seem strange to take medicine with a puffer since most medicines come in a pill.  Asthma medicine often comes in a puffer because this gets the medicine right to where it is needed – your lungs.  It gets to your lungs faster and because it goes right to your lungs, you need a lot less of the medicine.


Q. I am allergic to pollen.  I know it comes from trees and plants, but what is it?

A. Pollen is a fine powder that comes from trees and plants.  In order for certain trees and plants to grow new trees and plants, they need to send pollen into the air, carried by the wind.  Unfortunately this means that they can also be inhaled into your lungs and nose where they can cause allergies.


Q. Will my asthma ever go away?

A. This is not easy to figure out.  For some people, asthma goes away at some point and never seems to come back.  For others, asthma goes away for many years but comes back later as an adult.  And then there are some people who always have asthma.  Even if your asthma stays with you always, as long as you keep it under control you can live a normal active life.


Q. Are there any dogs or cats that are okay for people who have asthma?

A.  If you are allergic to cats or dogs, you should not have any in your home.  Any dog or cat can cause allergies in a person who is allergic to them.  Some people believe that some dogs and cats do not cause allergies because they don’t shed hair.  However, it is not the hair that you are allergic to.  It is the dander (tiny skin particles) and saliva.  There is no proof that any dog or cat is safe for people allergic to them.


Q. How did I get asthma?

A. Asthma and allergies often run in families, passed on in the family genes.  This means that if one or both of your parents has asthma or allergies, then you have a higher chance of also having asthma or allergies.  However, many people have asthma when nobody else in the family does.  Other causes of asthma are not very well understood.  Exposure to cigarette smoke, pets, moulds, dust mites, or air pollution may also be a part of the cause of asthma.


Q. Are my asthma medicines safe for me?

A. Asthma medicines are generally very safe.  Your doctor will try to find the lowest amount of medicine that keeps your asthma under control.  Plus, keeping your lungs healthy is very important too.


Q. Should I stop eating certain foods?

A. Foods do not usually make asthma worse.  However, some people need to avoid certain foods that can cause asthma symptoms and other allergic reactions.  If you think food is making your asthma worse, ask your doctor for some help.  You can be sent for an allergy test to find out what you may be allergic to.


Q. How do I know if my inhaler is empty?

A. Some inhalers have a counter or indicator which shows you how many puffs are left.  The kind of inhaler that sprays out a mist of medicine may or may not have a counter.  If it does not, you can shake the puffer near your ear.  This allows you to listen for the liquid swishing around as well as feel for the liquid moving.  When this kind of inhaler is almost empty, the mist will not be as full as before.  Then it is time to get a new one.

You can also count the number of doses you use over time.  This is easier if you take the same amount of puffs every single day.

Make sure you get your new inhaler before your old one runs out.  This way you will not miss any doses.