Complications

During an asthma attack, the airways swell and narrow. This makes it hard to breathe. Severe asthma attacks can be life threatening, but you can help prevent them by keeping your asthma under control and treating symptoms before they get bad.

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Asthma often starts when you're a child or teen, or you may get it as an adult. It usually lasts throughout your life.

At times, the inflammation from asthma causes a narrowing of your airways and an increase in mucus. This causes asthma symptoms such as shortness of breath.

You may have symptoms every day or just now and then, or you may have something in between. Sometimes your symptoms may suddenly get worse (or flare up) and cause an asthma attack. Over time, your breathing problems may get more severe, or you may have symptoms more often.

You may have a hard time breathing only at certain times, like during allergy season, or when you get a cold, or when you exercise. Or you may have breathing problems a lot of the time. The things that make your asthma or breathing worse are called triggers.

Even mild asthma may cause long-term changes to your airways and lungs. It may speed up and make worse the natural decrease in lung function that occurs as we age. Asthma can make lung and airway infections like bronchitis and pneumonia worse.

Some experts believe that asthma may raise your risk for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Asthma can occur for the first time during pregnancy, or it may change during pregnancy.

When asthma is properly controlled, a woman can have a normal pregnancy with little or no increased risk to herself or the baby. But if the asthma isn't well controlled, there are risks to the pregnant woman and the baby.

Asthma attacks

During an asthma attack, the airways swell and narrow. This makes it hard to breathe. Severe asthma attacks can be life-threatening, but you can help prevent them by keeping your asthma under control and treating symptoms before they get bad. Symptoms include being short of breath, having chest tightness, coughing, and wheezing. Noting and treating these symptoms can also help you avoid future trips to the emergency room.

The doctor has checked you carefully, but problems can develop later. If you notice any problems or new symptoms, get medical treatment right away.

How asthma and GERD are related

GERD is found in many people who have asthma. Having asthma increases the chances of developing GERD.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is the abnormal backflow, or reflux, of stomach juices into the esophagus, the tube that leads from the throat to the stomach.

Some experts debate whether or to what extent GERD makes asthma worse. Studies have shown conflicting results as to whether GERD triggers asthma.

Those experts who believe GERD does trigger asthma theorize that the abnormal backflow of stomach juices irritates nerves in the esophagus. This could make the smooth muscles of the bronchial tubes tighten, causing airway narrowing. Or food may back up into the throat and airway, causing direct irritation of the bronchial tubes.

People with asthma who have heartburn — after meals, when they bend over, or when they lie down — may need to be treated for GERD. If you have persistent nighttime asthma symptoms, especially coughing and wheezing, GERD could be making your asthma symptoms worse. Simple steps you can take that may reduce the symptoms of GERD include losing weight (if needed), eating a low-fat diet, raising the head of your bed, and not eating for at least three  hours before you go to bed.

Asthma and pregnancy

Asthma is a fairly common health problem for pregnant women, including some women who have never had it before. During pregnancy, asthma not only affects you, but it also can cut back on the oxygen your fetus gets from you. But this does not mean that having asthma will make your pregnancy more difficult or dangerous to you or your fetus. Pregnant women who have asthma that is properly controlled generally have normal pregnancies with little or no increased risk to themselves or their developing babies.

Most asthma treatments are safe to use when you are pregnant. After years of research, experts now say that it is far safer to manage your asthma with medicine than it is to leave asthma untreated during pregnancy. Talk to your doctor about the safest treatment for you.

If you have not previously had asthma, you may not think that shortness of breath or wheezing during your pregnancy is asthma. If you know you have asthma, you may not consider it a concern if you only have mild symptoms. But asthma can affect you and your fetus, and you should act accordingly.

If your asthma is not controlled, risks to your health include:

  • High blood pressure during the pregnancy.
  • Preeclampsia, a condition that causes high blood pressure and can affect the placenta, kidneys, liver, and brain.

Risks to the fetus include:

  • Abnormally slow growth of the fetus (intrauterine growth retardation). When born, the baby appears small.
  • Birth before the 37th week of pregnancy (preterm birth).
  • Low birth weight.
  • Death immediately before or after birth (perinatal mortality).

The more control you have over your asthma, the less risk there is.

Asthma and allergies

Many women also have allergies, such as allergic rhinitis, along with asthma. Treating allergies is an important part of asthma management.

  • Inhaled corticosteroid medicines at recommended doses are effective and can be used by pregnant women.
  • The antihistamines loratadine or cetirizine are recommended.
  • If you are already taking allergy shots, you may continue getting them, but starting allergy shots during pregnancy is not recommended.
  • Talk to your doctor about using decongestants you take by mouth (oral decongestants). There may be better treatment options.

©2019 Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.

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Causes & Risk Factors

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Prevention

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Symptoms & Diagnosis

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Complications

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Treatment

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