Tampa General Hospital is a nationally acclaimed leader in the diagnosis, treatment and research of lung conditions. In our comprehensive Pulmonology and Lung Center, we offer world-class care for patients with asthma and other airway diseases.

Asthma causes the bronchial tubes—which move air into and out of the lungs—to become narrowed or blocked, making it difficult to breathe. Although asthma is a chronic condition, its effects are not continually present. Instead, an “asthma attack” occurs when the airways overreact to certain triggers. In this way, asthma differs from other airway diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which tend to produce constant symptoms.

What causes asthma?

Asthma results from oversensitivity of the airways to certain triggers, which vary from person to person. The reason for the oversensitivity is not always clear. In some cases, it is related to genetics, allergies or lung damage caused by a previous respiratory infection.

Some common asthma triggers include:

  • Allergens – Pollen, mold, dust mites and pet dander
  • Airborne irritants – Tobacco smoke, air pollution, dust and chemical fumes
  • Other health conditions – Respiratory infections, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and obstructive sleep apnea
  • Exercise – Physical activities that accelerate breathing
  • Weather – Dry air, cold air and high humidity
  • Strong emotions – Fear, anger and excitement
  • Medications – Aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and beta blockers

In response to a trigger, asthma causes the lungs’ airways to swell and produce excess mucus, and the surrounding muscles to spasm, both of which can narrow the bronchial tubes and make it difficult to breathe.

What are the signs of asthma?

Common asthma symptoms include:

  • A persistent dry cough
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness, pain or pressure
  • Shortness of breath

A severe bout of asthma (exacerbation) can be life-threatening. It is essential to call 911 or go directly to the nearest hospital ER to seek emergency treatment for asthma symptoms that rapidly worsen or do not respond to previously prescribed quick-relief medications.

How is asthma diagnosed?

If asthma is suspected based on the symptoms, a physician will typically perform a medical history review and physical exam. To evaluate lung function, the physician may also perform a spirometry, which measures the volume and speed of the air being inhaled and exhaled.

The diagnostic process for asthma may also include other tests, such as:

  • Allergy testing (blood or skin)
  • Blood work
  • Fractional exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO) testing
  • A chest X-ray

How is asthma treated?

The goals of asthma treatment are to control the symptoms and reduce the risk of exacerbations, allowing for participation in normal daily activities without limitations due to breathing problems.

Common medications used to treat asthma include:

  • Bronchodilators – Help relax the muscles around the airways
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – Help reduce swelling and mucus production in the airways
  • Biologic therapies – Target certain antibodies, inflammatory molecules or cell receptors to disrupt the pathways that lead to airway inflammation

Some asthma medications are inhaled with a nebulizer, metered-dose inhaler or another type of asthma inhaler; others are swallowed.

Receive outstanding care at TGH

At TGH’s Pulmonology and Lung division, we take a compassionate and personalized approach to care, and we emphasize clear communication and patient education. If you are living with asthma, we will help you explore your treatment options, answer your questions and provide the support you need to live your life to the fullest. Contact us at 800-822-3627 to request a consultation with a member of our team.