How Full Is Your Asthma Trigger Bucket?
How exactly, are we supposed to manage asthma when symptoms, or attacks, come on suddenly without any warning?
Early warning signs of an asthma attack
Sometimes symptoms will seemingly come out of nowhere. They take us by surprise while taking our breath away. However, this is not always the case. In fact, it’s often a few triggers that buildup over time that causes asthma symptoms. When we breathe in or experience these triggers, one after another, we begin to have early warning signs. An early warning sign can be an itchy chin, feeling tired or the need to clear your throat. When early warning signs are not recognized and treated, they worsen into asthma symptoms, including shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing.
Think of your asthma as a bucket. Now imagine whenever you are exposed to a trigger, that trigger jumps into your bucket. Your asthma bucket continues to fill up with triggers over time, until it eventually overflows. Let me explain . . .
Underlying inflammation of the airways
People with asthma always have underlying inflammation in their airways. This inflammation causes your “bucket” to be, let’s say, 25% full all the time. Monday morning you breathe in pollen on a walk. The pollen is a trigger that jumps into your bucket, increasing the inflammation. Now your bucket is 50% full. If you’re paying attention to your body, you may recognize you are feeling early warning signs, but maybe not.
On Tuesday, you have a very stressful day at work, and that stress jumps into your bucket on top of the already collected pollen and inflammation. The inflammation continues to get worse and narrow your airways, and now your bucket is 75% full. You are probably starting to feel some symptoms, such as a cough, or waking up with shortness of breath. Wednesday afternoon you hug a friend that is wearing perfume. That perfume goes into your asthma bucket which is now 100% full. At this point, the inside of your airways is seriously inflamed, and the muscles are now tightening around the airways. A full-blown asthma attack comes on quickly, right after smelling the perfume.
Because you didn’t feel your bucket fill up from the pollen and the stress, it’s easy to think that the only culprit was the perfume, and that a single trigger causes quick asthma attacks that you cannot prepare for. Sure, this happens sometimes, but not usually.
So how do we keep our buckets from overflowing?
- Take your asthma and allergy medications daily as directed to keep the inflammation down in your airways.
- Pay attention to your body and learn how to recognize early warning signs. Warnings signs can be as subtle as being grumpy, or as obvious as coughing or a feeling of chest tightness.
- At the first sign of symptoms, follow your asthma action plan and take your rescue-medication as prescribed. The quicker you can recognize symptoms and address them, the easier it will be to manage your symptoms and help avoid a breathing emergency.
What steps will you take to manage your asthma bucket?
Have you experienced a collapsed lung?