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Is asthma preventable?

In an individual who has been diagnosed with asthma, the focus of contemporary treatment emphasizes prevention of symptoms such as breathlessness, chest discomfort, cough, mucus production, and wheezing. Certain asthma medications, sometimes referred to as “controller medicine,” are designed and prescribed to maintain normal lung function, and to prevent an exacerbation of asthma — what used to be called an asthma “attack”. Identification of an individual’s asthma triggers and avoidance of exposure to the triggers are other ways to prevent an asthma exacerbation.

Prevention of the development asthma in a given individual is the subject of tremendous research. Patients, pulmonary specialists, allergists, and immunologists are all very interested in understanding the root causes of asthma. Right now, there is no known way to completely prevent the development of asthma. Because asthma tends to run in families, physicians often make suggestions to try and modify the emergence of allergies and/or asthma in a child thought to be at increased risk for the development of the disease. Based on epidemiological studies, physicians may advise new parents with asthma to follow special guidelines in caring for their newborn. Many recommendations concern the baby’s diet and environment. For example, an exclusive diet of mother’s milk for at least the first 6 months of life appears to delay, and possibly defer, the development of allergy and asthma. Similarly, early introduction of solid food is frowned upon in an infant at increased risk for asthma. Certain highly allergenic foods should not be part of a toddler’s diet. The foods responsible for most food allergy in children include cow’s milk, eggs, nuts, and fish. More specifically, 90% of all allergic reactions to food are caused by eight foods: cow’s milk, egg, peanut (which is a legume, not a true nut), tree nuts (such as walnuts, cashews, and hazelnuts), fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat. In addition to dietary guidelines, physicians stress the importance of a 100% smoke-free home. Some may advise a bedroom free of dust-collecting items such as draperies, stuffed animals, and wall-to-wall carpeting.

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