Asthma: It's not just a children's thing

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You can't shake that cough, maybe you're having a tougher time breathing, or you feel a little pressure in your chest. It could be a bunch of things: bronchitis, the start of pneumonia, a sign of emphysema ... or it could be asthma.

Sure, asthma is more common in kids, but symptoms can start at any age. In fact, recent government reports show asthma rates are on the rise: One in 12 adults are now diagnosed with the disease. Though scientists don't know exactly why some adults develop asthma and others don't, they believe genetics and environmental factors may play a role, they know women are more vulnerable than men, and they point to obesity, allergies and respiratory infections as potential triggers. There's no cure for asthma, but you can take these steps to minimize symptoms and breathe easier:

Stick to your medicine regimen

Most adults need two kinds: rescue medications, for immediate relief of symptoms, and daily long-term medication to help control inflammation in the airways and prevent attacks. Inhaled corticosteroids are the most common and most effective anti-inflammatory medications for asthma -- when they're doing their job, you shouldn't need the quick-relief inhaler very often. If you find yourself puffing on it more than normal, talk to your doctor; he may need to adjust your long-term medicine.

Avoid the potential triggers

A recent survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that almost half of adults don't take steps to avoid triggers, but that's a key part to managing asthma. Some of the most common triggers include allergens (such as pet dander, dust mites and mold), irritants (such as tobacco smoke) and viral infections (cold and sinusitis).

To take control, keep windows closed or turn on your air conditioning to help cut down the airborne pollen and mold spores that find their way indoors; the AC also lowers indoor humidity and can reduce your exposure to dust mites. Also, encase pillows in dust-proof covers and wash sheets and blankets in hot water every week. To reduce dander, keep pets out of the bedroom and have them bathed or groomed regularly. And wash your hands often--it's the best way to prevent sickness.

Develop an action plan

It's a step-by-step guide -- created with your doctor, tailored to you and designed to help you monitor whether your treatment plan is working and tell you what to do when it isn't. About 70% of adults did not have an asthma management plan in place, according to the CDC survey, but especially if you have moderate to severe asthma, you need one. A proper action plan includes customizing information on medications and triggers, tracking symptoms and using peak flow meters, recognizing and treating an attack and knowing when it's time to seek emergency care.

• The Doctors is an Emmy-winning daytime TV show with pediatrician Jim Sears, OB-GYN Lisa Masterson, ER physician Travis Stork, and plastic surgeon Andrew Ordon. Check for local listings.


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