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Asthma is a condition which occurs when the bronchial passages within the lungs constrict, reducing the amount of oxygen that is absorbed to the point of feeling "out of breath." Although the exact cause of this condition is not yet understood, it is known that many things can trigger an attack.

The most common of these are airborne irritants such as dust, pollen, mold, feathers, animal dander, and pollutants like ozone, chemical waste and cigarette smoke. Infections in the lungs, foods and food additives, and even cold air can also cause asthma attacks. Approximately 70% to 90% of asthmatics also experience what is known as "exercise-induced-asthma", which is believed to be caused by heat and water loss from the lungs during times of increases physical activity.

Certain drugs can also provoke an asthma attack. Common medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen and antihistamines, and prescription high blood pressure medicines call beta blockers have been found to bring on asthma attacks in some people. It is estimated that some 15 million Americans are asthmatic.

Because the causes of asthma attacks are so varied, no single therapy can effectively treat all cases. One or more medication may be prescribed to treat the condition. Drugs commonly used to dilate the bronchioles and increase air flow in the lungs include theophylline, usually taken in pill form, and beta-agonists, which can be inhaled directly into the lungs for quick relief.

Anticholinergics are medications which are also inhaled, but they work on the nervous system to help prevent bronchial constriction. Corticosteroids are used in both tablet and inhalant forms, and cromolyn sodium is used to prevent chronic asthma, often in combination with other drugs.

A Few Things To Remember When Using Asthma Mmedications

  • It is important to learn to use inhalant medications properly. Ask your physician or pharmacist to show you how, and ask their advice about using non-prescription inhalants.
  • Pills are slower to relieve symptoms, but relief lasts longer.
  • Do not exceed the recommended dosages.
  • Side effects are common with many asthma medications and should be promptly reported to your physician.
  • Some medications, like theophylline, are known to interact with other drugs. Inform your doctor of any other medications you are taking.
  • It is important to consult your physician or pharmacist before using any over-the-counter drugs or treatments. They will be able to advise you on proper usage and can warn you of possible side effects and contraindications.

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