Be Well: NewsDepth Feature on Managing Asthma

[Laura] If you've ever run a race or played an intense sport, you know what it feels like to have to catch your breath. For people with asthma that feeling can be triggered even if they haven't been running around. But what exactly is asthma? Let me explain.

Asthma is a disease that happens inside the airways, which look kind of like an upside down tree inside your lungs. The trunk of the tree is the main breathing pipe. It's called the trachea.

From there, your airways branch off into smaller and smaller breathing pipes, until they end in what's called air sacs, or alveoli. This is where the oxygen in your lungs gets into the rest of your body.

Those small airways leading up to the air sacs are called bronchioles, and those are the parts affected by asthma.

So, when a trigger, like a piece of pollen or a cold virus, gets into the airway, it can cause a reaction that makes those small airways swell, and it can even make the muscles in the airways clamp down, making them even narrower. In some cases, the body also produces extra mucus.

All this makes it harder for air to pass through, leading to shortness of breath, wheezing, and sometimes coughing. If you have asthma, you know what that feels like. If you don't, you probably know someone who does. Here are some tips for keeping asthma under control.

- Keep up with your medicine. It could be very boring and you can forget. You can go to school and think, maybe I don't need it today. I'll be fine and be in gym class and be stuck.

- Please make sure that if you have an inhaler, that you have it with you at all times.

- A lot of kids do best when they use their inhaler even before they're gonna play sports out there, out at recess, they go to gym class. That allows them to really play harder, play longer and get exercise which is really important for everybody to get but especially for kids with asthma.

- After when you take your inhaler you can do all other stuff that you want but just make sure you have your inhaler with you or on your purse or in your pocket.

- Sometimes it's upstairs in my classroom and in my book bag and in the office.

- Know what your triggers are and try to avoid them. Different people have different triggers.

- Pollen.

- Cold weather.

- And not playing in the grass.

- Certain smells may make things worse.

- Oh, and animals like their fur. If I'm around fur or grass I can wash my face and wash my hands and try to stay away from it.

- It can be hard to stop what you're doing and take a break. You'd have to go find your inhaler but it's a lot harder to wind up in the emergency room or the hospital.

- Sometimes when I'm running a lot, I get out of breath so I have to stop and take a breather and then if my chest still feels tight I have to take my inhaler.

- It looks like you're playing an instrument. A spacer is a plastic tube that holds that medicine in the tube so that you can breathe it into your airways where it works. If you put that inhaler right in your mouth and you just spray it right in there, most of it hits the roof of your mouth. It doesn't find its way down into your breathing pipes where it's gonna help you. So it's really almost a waste to do it that way. So if you're gonna take the time to stop and use your inhaler, you really ought to have your spacer with you.

- I use my spacer everyday.

- And you put it in your mouth and then you push this down and you breathe in, count to five, and breathe out, and then do it for a second time.

- Let everyone know. Talk to your teachers, talk to your friends. If they see you slip up, tell them, "Hey, can you tell me and remind me "to take my inhaler today?" And they'll keep up with you.

- If you're in school and you're having any kind of discomfort or problems related to your asthma, see your school nurse.

- Always ask for support.

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