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What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that causes inflammation in the lungs and narrowing of the airways. There is no cure for asthma, which affects at least 7 million children and 25 million individuals in the United States alone, according to the National Institute of Health.

What Causes Asthma?

The airways in the lungs carry air, which contains oxygen, into the lungs when you breathe in. Normally, these airways are open, allowing you to breathe deeply and get as much air as possible into the lungs. However, when someone has asthma, the airways narrow due to inflammation. The swelling causes the airways to tighten, resulting in a breathless feeling and the inability to get air deep into the lung’s passageways where the oxygen can be passed into the bloodstream.

The body attempts to fight off this air restriction in several ways. Cells in the airways often produce mucus, a sticky liquid that traps debris, in copious amounts. This further narrows the airways, creating a vicious cycle in which the patient struggles for breath and has coughing spells as the lungs attempt to clear the airways of excess mucus.

The National Institute of Health states that researchers do not know the exact cause of asthma or if the disease is caused by different factors in different patients. They hypothesize that some of the factors leading to asthma are as follows:

  • Atopy, an inherited trait that causes people to develop allergies
  • Respiratory infections in childhood
  • Contact with allergens or viruses during the development of the immune system

What researchers do know is that asthma tends to run in families. Parents who have asthma attacks triggered by cigarette smoke, for example, may have children with the same traits.

Another theory is that Western culture, with its emphasis on hygiene, has resulted in a decline in early childhood infections. While this would seem to be a good thing, it is also likely that this causes children to fail to build certain antibodies that may have helped fight off asthma in the past.

Types of Asthma

Asthma attacks can be triggered by numerous factors including dust, pollen, perfumes and smoke. A person having an asthma attack struggles for breath, may cough uncontrollably, and experiences pain. The lungs may produce a wheezing sound due to fluid content. Mild asthma attacks are common and often happen at certain times of the year as plants produce excess pollen. However, severe asthma attacks can lead to serious health complications or even death.

How Can I Treat Asthma?

One of the keys to preventing serious asthma outbreaks is early intervention. Children and adults can be taught to recognize the symptoms of an impending asthma attack and act accordingly. Many people are able to successfully treat asthma through the use of various types of drugs and by avoiding known asthma triggers.

The National Institute of Health notes that there are two categories of asthma treatment medication: long-term and rescue. Long-term relief, as the name implies, is taken on a daily basis to prevent asthma attacks. Rescue treatments are designed to end an immediate asthma attack.

Because rescue relief focuses on opening the airways immediately, it is often delivered in the form of an inhaler. Children and adults with chronic asthma may need to carry an inhaler at all times and should be taught how to use it properly. Proper use of an inhaler will greatly increase the likelihood of effective results, while improper use can actually be dangerous. Long-term asthma medicine may be in pill form or injections. No one should ever share someone else’s asthma medication or inhaler.

Asthma sufferers may also need to practice environmental controls. For example, if an asthma patient has attacks only at work, the doctor may want to evaluate the work space for possible triggers or investigate whether stress is causing the attacks. Similarly, doctors may design a different asthma treatment plan for athletes who only have attacks during exercise or for pregnant women whose exposure to certain drugs should be limited.

Will Health Insurance Pay for Asthma Treatment?

If asthma is a pre-existing condition that has already been diagnosed and treated when you get new health insurance, the insurance company may be reluctant to pay for the treatment. Under new healthcare laws, insurance companies will not have the right to deny patients treatment for pre-existing conditions unless they keep their premiums level. Most companies are already increasing premiums and have lost the right to deny asthma patients treatment.

However, your co-pays and other costs for asthma treatment may be high, depending on your insurance company’s policies. Investigate the cost of asthma medication by visiting your insurance company’s website. WebMD suggests several actions to lower asthma treatment costs, which can average $4,900 per year in patients with a severe asthmatic condition. These suggestions include:

  • Ask your doctor if a generic medication will work for you. Generics are usually much cheaper than brand-name prescriptions
  • Look into mail-order prescription plans which offer deeply discounted prices on asthma medication
  • Be aware that older medications may be cheaper but may also have more side effects than newer formulations
  • Ask your doctor for free samples in emergency situations
  • Be aware that long-term medications offer the best value for your money in terms of controlling asthma.

Asthma sufferers must make their healthcare a financial priority in order to live full, productive lives.

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