Your physician is very likely to talk with you about ways to prevent asthma attacks or to reduce their frequency. Likewise, people with chronic obstructive pulmonary (lung) disease (COPD) can make changes that will reduce their breathing difficulties and slow the progression of their disease.
Experts agree that non-drug approaches can significantly improve your quality of life and reduce breathing difficulties if you have asthma or COPD.
Most importantly, if you have either of these conditions and you smoke cigarettes, you will be strongly urged to quit. Your insurance may pay for medications to help you quit, and/or a smoking cessation program. If you have asthma, you should find out what your asthma “triggers” are and avoid them. If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a pulmonary rehab program at your local hospital may help.
You may also be advised to use an air conditioner and dehumidifier to reduce exposure to airborne irritants like pollen. Both can help keep humidity down, which lowers the threat of mold and mites, common allergens that trigger asthma. You may also be told to clean frequently to reduce dust accumulation, and to avoid pets. Since cold air can spark asthma, wearing a scarf over your nose and mouth in the winter is a good idea.
Exercise can be helpful. Because it can trigger an attack if too strenuous, however, your doctor will advise you to increase your activity level gradually to strengthen your heart and lungs, and use less oxygen. People with asthma should take their quick-acting inhaler medicine before exercise.
People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are usually strongly urged to get a flu shot every year and be sure they are up to date on the pneumonia vaccine.
Many people try alternative therapies for asthma, such as changing their diet, taking herbs or vitamins, homeopathic remedies, or receiving acupuncture. Very little research has been done on these treatments but most studies have found them ineffective. Some – such as herbal ephedra – can be dangerous. The FDA has now banned ephedra.
To recap, there are three main categories of inhaled asthma and COPD drugs, which are the medicines most used to treat these conditions. They are:
■ The steroid anti-inflammatories, also called preventers or long-term control medicines
■ The fast-acting bronchodilators, also called relievers or rescue drugs
■ Combination drugs, which combine a steroid anti-inflammatory and a bronchodilator