How to Treat Asthma

Treating asthma is tough, so prevention is #1.

Rob Lamberts, MD
5-minute read
Episode #33

Today’s article is part 2 of my series on asthma.  If you haven’t already done so, read my last article, which talked about the basics of asthma – it’s important background for this one.

What are Asthma Attacks?

As I said in my last article, asthma is a long-term disease that can occasionally get dangerous.  In this article, I am going to discuss those dangers, what to do when things do get bad, and how to prevent them from getting bad in the first place.

Most of the time, the symptoms of asthma are cough, and maybe some wheezing. But there are times when things get bad.  They have episodes of wheezing that is so bad it makes it hard to breathe at all.  These episodes are known as asthma “attacks.” An asthma “attack” happens when the airway narrowing gets severe,. In this condition, a person can’t get enough air out of their lungs to get rid of carbon dioxide and also can’t get enough oxygen in. Initially, the person compensates for that by breathing faster, but eventually, two things can happen:

  • the tired muscles cause the breathing to slow, resulting in less oxygen and more carbon dioxide in the blood.

  • High levels of carbon dioxide in the blood make a person sleepy, slowing the breathing even more. Eventually, this vicious cycle will kill if it is not treated.

How is Asthma Treated?

So how is asthma treated?  Since the problem is in the tubes that supply air to the lungs, most asthma medication is delivered directly to the lungs. There are two ways to do this: through an inhaler or through a nebulizer (which is a machine that turns the medication into a mist). The nebulizer is generally used when the person has significant enough symptoms that make taking a deep breath difficult.

There are two main types of inhaled medications: medications that reduce airway spasms, and medications that reduce inflammation. The medications that reduce spasm are called bronchodilators. Because these medications are related to adrenaline, they make the heart race and make the person feel shaky.  Albuterol is the most common medication in this class.

If you smoke and have asthma, please stop. Smoking asthmatics are like the guy coming to my office who says, “Doc, it really hurts me when I hit my hand with this hammer. What should I do?”  Stop hitting yourself with a hammer.


Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.