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What is asthma?

Written by Aetna By Aetna

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Asthma is a common disease that makes it hard for you to breathe. You should call your primary care physician (PCP) if these symptoms affect you or start to worsen:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Shortened tolerance for exercise

What causes an asthma attack?

It can be hard to predict an asthma attack. An asthma attack can be caused by allergens and other irritants in the air, like:

  • Tree, grass or weed pollen
  • Dust mites
  • Animal dander
  • Smoke
  • Strong odors
  • Chemical fumes

Asthma can change over time. You’ll need to make changes to your treatment plan to keep your asthma under control.

Dealing with asthma

Asthma affects people in different ways. Don’t worry — we’re here to help you. Some people are considered low-risk, while others have a harder time breathing. If you’re low-risk, we’ll give you information to help you take care of yourself. If you’re high-risk, a care manager will call you to talk about your care. It’s important to learn as much as you can about your asthma. Your care manager will talk to you about things like:

  • How to take care of your asthma at home
  • Why taking your medicine is important
  • What causes asthma attacks
  • How to get the most out of your doctors’ visits
  • Which habits you can change to help you feel better

You should seek emergency medical treatment right away if you:

  • Have severe breathlessness or wheezing, especially early in the morning
  • Can’t speak more than short phrases, due to lack of breath
  • Have to strain your chest muscles to breathe
  • Get low peak flow readings when you use a peak flow meter
  • Feel no improvement after using a quick-acting (rescue) inhaler

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