Asthma FAQ

Asthma Poster Featured in ATS Morning Minute

Cathy Vitari, a clinical research nurse at the Asthma Institute had her poster described today in ATS Morning Minute. The title is “Simulator May Help Asthma Patients Learn How To Correctly Use Inhalers”. Click here to find out more.

Physician researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Asthma Institute at UPMC are now using molecular and genetic information to identify asthma phenotypes and customize therapies in order to improve patient outcomes.

Asthma Resources:

Asthma Support Group
GINA Guidelines
NHLBI/NAEPP Guidelines
Respiratory Reader
Severe Asthma Research Program
Breathe Pennsylvania
Ethnic Disparities in the Burden and Treatment of Asthma
Ashtma Faq Videos


What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the lungs which can make it hard to breathe. The airways themselves are very sensitive and become obstructed making it difficult to get air out.


Are there different types of asthma?

There are different types of asthma. People who are diagnosed with asthma as children tend to experience different symptoms than those who are diagnosed as adults. Some asthma is more linked to allergies. Some asthma in women can be affected by changes in hormones.


What are the signs and symptoms of asthma?

The main symptoms are shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness and coughing. Other conditions can have these symptoms as well, so it is important to consult an asthma specialist to receive a proper diagnosis.


What are the goals of asthma treatment?

The goals of asthma treatment are to prevent chronic and troublesome symptoms, reduce the use of rescue medicine such as albuterol, maintain near-normal pulmonary function, maintain normal activity levels, and meet the patients’ expectations of and satisfaction with their asthma care. We also want to prevent recurrent exacerbations, minimize the need for emergency room visits or hospitalizations, prevent progressive loss of lung function, and reduced lung growth in children.


What are asthma triggers?

Triggers are factors that can bring on an asthma attack. Controlling your environment by reducing or stopping exposure to your triggers is an important part of treatment. Every person with asthma has different triggers. The following are common triggers: dust mites, animal dander, pollens, indoor molds, cockroaches, tobacco smoke, infections, strong odors, stress, exercise, respiratory infections, and hormones. You do not have to avoid exercise if you have asthma; in fact, exercise is strongly encouraged. Premedicating with an inhaler before exercise can help reduce the risk of an asthma attack.


What medicines are used to treat asthma?

There are two main types of medicine to treat asthma: long-term control medicines (controllers) and quick relief medicines (rescue medicines). Long-term control medicines prevent symptoms and treat the disease process and inflammation. These medicines are taken daily, even if you feel well. Quick relief (rescue) medicines work quickly to open up narrowed airways when shortness of breath or other acute asthma symptoms occur.


How do you use an inhaler?

There are two types of inhalers: metered dose inhalers (MDI) and dry powder inhalers. Specific instructions come with each inhaler.


What is peak flow monitoring?

A peak flow meter measures how well air moves out of your lungs. The peak flow rate can be used to find out if there is narrowing of the airways. Your personal best number is the highest peak flow number you can achieve over a two-week period, when your asthma is under good control. Once you know your personal best, your doctor can adjust your treatment plan based on your numbers.


How do I know how severe my asthma is?

The severity of your asthma is mainly determined by how often you have symptoms, your breathing test results, the type and amount of medications you use daily, and how often you have to use your rescue inhaler. We use the Asthma Control Questionnaire, which asks you these questions, to determine how severe your asthma is and if it has been under control. Our goal for asthma patients is to have as few symptoms as possible.


How can I tell if my symptoms are from asthma or vocal cord dysfunction?

Vocal cord dysfunction (VCD) is a condition in which the vocal cords spontaneously close, cutting off the air supply. It can often present like asthma, and some individuals can experience symptoms of both conditions simultaneously.


What do I do if my asthma is not under control?

Talk with your doctor about your concerns. Our physicians would also be delighted to see you in our clinic. To schedule an appointment, please call (412) 648-6161.


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