Asthma is a chronic inflammation of the lung’s airways characterized by a cough, shortness of breath and wheezing. In severe cases, the airways contract and the patient cannot get enough air into the lungs.
The disease affects 22 million Americans, and more than 4,000 of them will die from asthma each year.
The first step an allergist will take when seeing a new asthma patient is to accurately diagnosing the disease, its types and subtypes and severity. An allergist also will identify the role of external factors, including allergens that can trigger an asthma attack and then advise patients on how to avoid their asthma triggers.
Many people with asthma are allergic to one or more things that trigger their asthma symptoms. The allergist can perform tests to identify an individual’s asthma triggers and help patients develop a plan to avoid or minimize exposure to the allergens that contribute to the disease. An allergist also may administer immunotherapy or “allergy shots” to reduce sensitivity to allergy triggers.
Allergists maintain asthma through a multi-faceted approach. This includes prevention, appropriate use of medications and other interventions to prevent symptoms. The allergist is uniquely qualified to work with patients to ensure proper use of long-term controller medications, avoid over-reliance on quick-relief medications and prevent hospitalization, emergency room visits, days lost from work and other debilitating and expensive outcomes associated with poorly controlled asthma.
Aggressive management of asthma by an allergist also can reduce the estimated 10 million work days missed each year because of asthma. One study reported that adult patients averaged an 80 percent reduction in missed work days. Another study randomly assigned nearly 100 adults who have a history of frequent health care to receive either specialty care or general care for six months.
The general care group had 1,040 days of lost work or school compared to 246 days for those assigned to specialty care. The specialty care group had direct and indirect cost savings of $6,462 per patient.
A patient should see an allergist when they’ve had asthma symptoms every day and often at night that causes them to limit their activities or if they have a life-threatening asthma attack.
Visiting an allergist also shouldbe considered when a patient needs more help or instructions on their treatment plan, medications or asthmas triggers, if they need more tests to find out more about their asthma and the causes of symptoms or if they need help identifying their asthma triggers.
(Dr. Arkapol Pyamahunt is an allergy and immunology specialist at St. Alexius Medical Center.)