Tag Archives: Dyspnea

What’s important about Asthma?

If you’re like me, your schedule can’t take another committment–how can you add one more task for asthma?  Don’t neglect treatment for your asthma as proper attention now will save you time & money in the end.  Anyone remember the Fram oil filter commercial….”you can pay me now or pay me later?”  We’ll help you focus on what needs to be done everyday and which tasks are to be used just when needed. 

But first, how does asthma really work and why do I have it?  Review this link for “real time” photos!

 What is my hope for you by using these techniques?

1.  More activity without wheezing, coughing, or becoming short of breath

2.  No unscheduled office visits or Urgent care/emergency room visits for asthma flares

3.  Preserve your lung function for your retirement…we all love being active with our grandkids!

4.  Get you on the cheapest medicines available to prevent asthma.

So what’s most important in treatment of your asthma to avoid the top box?

1.  Get a written Asthma Action Plan…if we don’t bring it up, ask.

2.  Review your inhaler use like you would an oil change–every 3 months.  Which medicines are “everyday” and which ones are just “as needed?”

3.  Peak flow meter.  Use for 1-2 weeks as a baseline and thereafter like a thermometer for your asthma. 

Need extra help:  Click on the link to the American Academy of Allergy (AAAAI)

Ouch! my tonsils are hurting me!

All that wheezes isn’t asthma!  Ever heard that before?  A common finding in our clinic is “wheezing” or difficulty breathing not due to asthma, but as a result of large tonsils/adenoids.  A typical history is as follows:

  • Snoring at night
  • He wheezes–(it’s not really wheezing, but loud noises coming from the lungs is often labeled as such)
  • I can never breathe through my nose
  • Examination reveals no wheezing in the chest, but coarse rhonchi transmitted to the chest from the upper airway
  • Look at these tonsils that are almost completely obstructing the back of the throat–

ENT doctors are the surgeons that perform T & A’s as they are popularly called.  (tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy)  The enthusiasm for removing tonsils in young children as a “routine” procedure as decreased because of intraoperative complications, but if it’s needed, the risks outweigh the benefits.  

The Prescription for Wintertime Asthma Control

We haven’t had much of a winter in the Midwest, but the air is still dry enough to cause “winter” asthma.  Today I would like to discuss how clinicians can provide evidence-based care for their patients with asthma by advising them on how to control asthma during the cold winter months. Today’s discussion is based on the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program’s Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma.

  • Extreme temperature changes during the winter can wreak havoc on patients with asthma. Inhaling cold air, especially during physical exertion, can cause drying of the airway and bronchospasm in patients with asthma. 
  • This can result in dangerous episodes of coughing and shortness of breath. Often symptoms occur minutes after exposure.

Patients may recognize that coughing and shortness of breath are a result of exposure to cold air. However, they may not understand that there are ways for them to reduce these adverse reactions to the cold.

Educate your patients about ways to deal with their asthma in cold weather.

  • Teach your patients to shield themselves from the cold air with a scarf, turtleneck, or jacket collar. Covering one’s mouth (and nose when possible) with a scarf will help to warm the inhaled air. Warming up before exercise and cooling down for at least 10 minutes after heavy exercise by walking or stretching can also help.
  • Every use one of these for outdoor activity when it’s cold?

    pearl izumi running mask--it works!

Most important, as their physician, explain the proper use of medication. All patients with persistent asthma (patients having any asthma-related nighttime awakenings or having daytime symptoms more than twice a week) should be on a controller medication, usually an inhaled corticosteroid. These should be taken daily, not just as needed.

The controller medication can be supplemented by the use of a short-acting beta-2 agonist inhaler before any outdoor activity in cold weather. It is better, however, to control the underlying airway inflammation and reactivity with a controller medication.

And remember: This is the time of year to give your patients a flu shot. It’s not too late even in March.  People with asthma are more likely to have serious health problems from getting the flu, yet most people with asthma don’t receive a flu shot every year. Flu vaccine is the first and most important step they can take to protect themselves from the flu.

Finally, the goal of good asthma care is for your patients to be able to enjoy life with as few symptoms as possible. Partnering with your patients through scheduled follow-up care can achieve that goal. Schedule regular follow-up visits. Assess control at each visit, beginning with a standardized questionnaire. Review the patient’s written Asthma Action Plan at each visit. Ask about asthma triggers and help your patients reduce or eliminate them. Review medications and be sure your patients understand how and when to use them.

The More Ya Know, the Less Ya Know!

I have just returned from the Annual Meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology held in Boston from Nov 3-8.  Sure the meeting was good, but the food was even better.  Consider the oldest “active” restaurant in America, Union Oyster House–the stew was delightful and if you’re bored with allergies, peruse the menu on-line and dream of dining with JFK (he has a booth in his name there). 

On to what’s new in allergy & asthma….

My, how things have changed!

Environmental Tobacco Smoke

Smoking bans in Tulsa have stirred some vigorous debate this year (see link).  Most importantly, do they work? Information presented last week would suggest a resounding YES!  In the U.S. more than 200,000 asthma admissions per year are attributed to Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS). Smoking bans can prevent this complication!  The Scottish health system has the database to measure the effects of a community-wide smoking ban and their intervention was associated with an 18% reduction in hospital admissions for asthma (NEJM 2010). Wow

If you have to smoke inside, HEPA filters reduced asthma visits in 6-12-year-old children by 18%.

VCD–Vocal Cord Dysfunction

I have a post on this blog describing VCD or paradoxical vocal cord motion.  Our terminology is now changing and instead of VCD, I like the term” irritable larnyx syndrome (WILS).”  The vocal cords are “housed” in the larynx and many structures and muscles have to work correctly in order for the vocal cords to allow air in and out of the lungs. This implies that multiple triggers will cause an attack and patients with difficult asthma may have a laryngeal dysfunction not just VCD. If you don’t believe me, look at this study.  World-wide recognition (AJRCCM, a study from Australia).

Tiotropium–alias Spiriva

Way too many choices in the treatment of asthma!  Why would you consider Tiotropium or Spiriva for asthma?

Picture says 1,000 words!

1.  Tiotropium works as step-up therapy in adult asthma.  Some patients just can’t tolerate albuterol or Xopenex™ because of tremor and other side effects.  Now you have an alternative: There were similar improvements in lung function and symptom-free days with Spiriva as adding long acting bronchodilator (NEJM 2011).

2.  Tiotropium does fit into the Asthma Guidelines (2007) and works better than increasing the dose of inhaled steroids (yea, less steroids) and is equal to salmeterol (Serevent).

3.  This report is from England, so BEWARE!  The Respimat inhaler isn’t used in the United States and should you read about this study, it doesn’t apply to patients in the US.  (Recent BMJ meta-analysis showed increased cardiovascular mortality with that formulation in COPD) (BMJ, 2011).Anti IL-13 (lebrikuzumab)–Did you say leprechaun?

There is one take home message with the use of lebrikuzumab:

1.  Personalized medicine is here!  In this study, patients that improved with anti IL-13 also had elevated levels of periostin in blood tests. Periostin is a marker of airway remodelling and gives us a clue as to why and how IL-13 contributes to asthma.  Lebrikizumab improved FEV1, but there was no improvement in symptoms or medication use (NEJM 2011).

Antibiotics

This comes from the literature review at the College meeting—1 of every 6 children with asthma seen the ED are prescribed antibiotics. Don’t you think this is high for a “practice” that is supposed to be very selective in who gets antibiotics?  Generally, antibiotics are not helpful in asthma anyway. More than 2 courses of antibiotics for cough in a 6-month time frame should warrant consideration of asthma as a cause (Pediatrics, 2011).

Mold allergy

In a study in Arizona, Fernandez et al. showed skin testing to Alternaria to be surprisingly accurate.  Ninety-six percent of patients with a positive skin test to this mold had a positive bronchial provocation test with Alternaria. In Arizona, Alternaria has surpassed dust mite as number one allergen in asthma (due to dry climate).  I wonder what results would be in Oklahoma?  Here’s what alternaria looks like: 

Alternaria under a microscope
Alternaria in real life

Immunotherapy

Come on now, do allergy shots REALLY work? Shots with dust mite allowed for inhaled steroid reduction by 50% in children with asthma vs. 30% in controls. Not bad! Do I have to take my medication with shots? Adding dust mite shots to pharmacologic treatment was an effective and safe strategy to reduce corticosteroid doses while maintaining disease control in children with mite-induced allergic asthma (JACI 2011).

Asthma

Which inhaled steroid to use?  Does it matter?  QVAR™ & Alvesco™ have said for quite some time that small particles penetrate the airways of an asthmatic better than the competition.  They may be right– small particle size inhaled steroids may allow for equal efficacy (benefit) with 1/2 to 1/3 the dose of a larger size of same steroid. Marketing isn’t bad, sometimes it’s just delayed results.

SABA update: Levalbuterol (Xopenex™) may not have any real-life advantages over albuterol. Even in the Xopenex™ package insert, there is  mention that there was no difference in heart rate or tremor.  In patients who swear by Xopenex™, there’s no reason to change, just start out with cheaper albuterol. 

Antihistamines for asthma?

Many patients take antihistamines every day like vitamins.  They feel better if an antihistamine is “on-board.”  Once again, learn from your patient….they will often give you clues to what medications work.  Symptom scores in asthma patients show comparable improvement when given desloratadine (antihistamine) compared to montelukast. Use of antihistamine may prevent the development of asthma in some predisposed children.  Well I’ll be….

Grandpa can’t breathe!

Asthma in the elderly

The majority of asthma deaths are in patients older than 65.

Asthma in adults/elderly is still predominantly an atopic disease. This means, it’s still due to allergy.  Don’t forget to test your older population.  In a University of Michigan study, 77% of adult asthma patients were skin test positive.

Depression is definitely underdiagnosed in our loved ones who have retired (ie, grandma & grandpa).  Why? They should have a carefree life during retirement, but they don’t. Depression is a significant factor for poor asthma quality of life in the elderly. You are 10x more likely to suffer from psychological dysfunction if you have more than 3 exacerbation of asthma in a single year. 

Just goes to show you that allergic respiratory disease is a very complicated condition and every year I’m challenged with new treatments!  I can’t ask for anything more.