Respiratory Problems & Asthma Treatment

What do Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Kristi Yamaguchi and Greg Louganis have in common — besides winning Olympic medals?

They all have asthma.

However, these athletes never let respiratory problems get the best of them. "I finally learned I had to respect asthma as much as I would an opponent,” Joyner-Kersee told Sports Illustrated for Women.

The key to living with a chronic respiratory problem is to find an experienced, trustworthy physician to help you manage your symptoms and prevent flare-ups. Dr. Baxter, one of the most trusted allergists in Dallas, has many years of experience working with patients with, asthma and other respiratory problems.

Asthma

More than 25 million Americans (including some of our favorite Olympic athletes!) suffer from asthma, a chronic lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways. Asthma causes wheezing, shortness of breath, a feeling of tightness in the chest and coughing. Symptoms may be mild, intermittent, severe or persistent. A bout of symptoms is often called an asthma attack or flare-up.

The most common form of asthma is allergic asthma, where the asthma symptoms are triggered by inhaling allergens like dust, mold, pollen or pet dander. The allergen causes a response by the immune system, and causes the airway passages to inflame and swell, resulting in coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and other asthma symptoms.

Alternatively, asthma can be exacerbated by non-allergic triggers, such as tobacco smoke, air pollution and changes in the weather. Some people suffer from exercise-induced asthma symptoms or occupational asthma caused by inhaling fumes, gases, acids, or other irritants while at work or school.

Sometimes, asthma and COPD (chronic bronchitis or emphysema) can co-exist. Both conditions involve long-term inflammation of the airways, but patients with COPD show evidence of permanent damage and do not respond as dramatically to anti-inflammatory medications.

Asthma in Children

Millions of children develop asthma at a young age. In fact, it is the most common chronic disease in children. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology notes that the majority of asthmatic children develop the condition before the age of 5.

If you suspect your child has asthma because he or she is experiencing a persistent cough, wheezing or a whistling sound like exhaling; complaining of a tight chest sensation; or avoiding sports or other physical activities, please make an appointment with Dr. Baxter so she can evaluate your child.

Asthma attacks are scary, especially for a child who doesn’t fully understand the condition. However, with the proper understanding and a trustworthy physician, asthma can be quite manageable.

Video: Asthma Treatment & Diagnosis


Dr. Barbara Baxter, an experienced allergy doctor in Dallas, discusses how she treats asthma patients at her practice.

Diagnosing Asthma

First, Dr. Baxter takes a complete medical history of the patient. She will ask detailed questions about the asthma symptoms, such as:

  • What time of day do symptoms occur?
  • Do symptoms occur during/after exercise?
  • Are symptoms worse during a certain season?
  • Do symptoms occur when exposed to tobacco smoke/cold air/pollen/mold?

After taking down a detailed medical history, Dr. Baxter will administer breathing tests called spirometry and exhaled nitric oxide to measure the amount of air the lungs can hold and the speed of the air as it is inhaled and exhaled, as well as the level of inflammatory chemicals in the airways. Since allergy-related asthma is so common, Dr. Baxter may also perform allergy testing.

Asthma Treatments

There is no cure for asthma, but there are ways to control the symptoms and avoid triggers. After diagnosis, Dr. Baxter will prescribe medication and provide detailed instructions for using it.

Controllers

Controller medications are preventive or maintenance medications that should be taken daily to prevent an asthma attack. These medications include inhaled corticosteroids, which decrease inflammation in the airways of the lungs. Depending on your case, Dr. Baxter may combine the corticosteroid with a long-acting beta-agonist (LABA), which is also helpful to open the airways.

A leukotriene is a chemical the body releases if the immune system interacts with an allergen. The chemical causes the airways to tighten and the body to produce excess mucus and fluid. Medicines called leukotriene modifiers block the actions of the leukotrienes to prevent asthma symptoms.

Bronchodilators (“Rescue Medications”)

Rescue medications are fast-acting medications that relieve asthma symptoms. The most common rescue medications are bronchodilators which are inhaled to immediately open up the airways and soothe wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. Though they are helpful in a pinch, rescue medications do not offer long-term efficacy.

COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States, and affects 15 to 30 million Americans. Smoking is the cause of more than 95 percent of all COPD cases.

COPD is actually used to describe a group of diseases in which the airflow of the lungs is limited. The most notable COPD diseases are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Marked by shortness of breath and chronic coughing, COPD affects the lung’s bronchial tubes that branch off the windpipe, as well as the small air sacs responsible for the transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide. COPD also affects the linings of the airways, causing more problems.

Dr. Baxter is currently involved with multiple clinical trials testing new medications for COPD and asthma. If you’re interested in trying new medications, please contact our office.

Sinusitis

Sinusitis is characterized by inflammation and swelling of the sinuses (the air-filled cavities around the nasal passages). Normally, the sinuses contain mucus that warms, moistens and filters air; however, if something prevents the mucus from draining normally, this signals an infection and may cause symptoms such as the following:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Thick nasal discharge
  • Post-nasal drip
  • Facial pressure or pain (especially behind the eyes)
  • Difficulty in smelling
  • Cough
  • Soar Throat
  • Headache

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should consult Dr. Baxter to talk about diagnosis and treatment options.

Medical Management of Respiratory Problems

After identifying the cause of your respiratory problem, Dr. Baxter will talk to you about dealing with your disease and minimizing your exposure to possible triggers. She will also explore ways to medically manage the disease.

Options include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Decongestants
  • Guaifenesin
  • Nasal steroids
  • Pain relievers
  • Irrigation
  • Avoidance of antihistamines

Contact Dr. Baxter

If you or a loved one struggles with a chronic respiratory problem and needs help managing the condition, please call Dr. Baxter at (214) 363-8653 to explore your treatment options.

Dr. Barbara Baxter

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by Barbara Stark Baxter MD
Internal Medicine & Allergy Specialist