When Is It Time to See an Asthma Specialist?

Asthma affects about 24 million people in the United States, including 6 million children. When you have trouble breathing, it can cause tremendous fear as well as health complications, especially if the condition isn’t diagnosed and treated. Health correspondent Chrys Peterson talked with M. Razi Rafeeq, MD, ProMedica Physicians Allergy and Immunology, to learn more about the condition.

Chrys: How do you know if you have asthma?

Dr. Rafeeq: Someone who has asthma has perhaps had symptoms for a period of time — recurring symptoms of coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and perhaps having difficulties with physical activities, such as exercise. With that history, individuals need to be diagnosed properly and treated.

What causes asthma?

Really, no one knows what causes asthma. What we do know is that asthma is an allergic condition and, like many other allergic conditions, is inherited. So it is passed on from one generation to another. Not everyone who has asthma has the same type of asthma. Not everyone who has a family history gets asthma. So when you have a family history of other allergies, or another family member who has asthma, then, with the proper symptoms, that can cause a high index of suspicion.

When is the right time to see or to take a child to see an allergist/immunologist to see if there’s a chronic condition?

When the symptoms are affecting activities such as missed school, a person is not sleeping well, not responding to first-line medications, getting frequent antibiotics for colds and respiratory infections but the symptoms don’t go away — that would be the ideal patient who would benefit from a visit to an allergy/immunology specialist.

Would you need to stay on medication forever?

Obviously someone who has one or two episodes or minor flare-ups of asthma in a year doesn’t need to be on daily medications. But someone who has severe or persistent symptoms that require emergency visits and hospitalizations – yes, they need to be on what we call controller medication. Maintenance medications will help not only prevent symptoms and attacks but improve quality of life.

One of the great things about seeing an expert is that an expert is able to figure out what those triggers might be and maybe avoid them so you don’t have these attacks, right?

The management plan includes not only avoidance and medications, but in many cases, individuals with asthma would qualify for a treatment called allergy immunotherapy. Allergy immunotherapy is a series of allergy injections that are given to build up a tolerance to the things that they’re allergic to. For example, someone who has a cat allergy would receive small, minute amounts of increasing doses of the cat allergen by injection to help control the asthma symptoms and improve quality of life.

Can children and adults with asthma still play sports?

Absolutely. If you look at the famous athletes, like Dennis Rodman, these individuals have excelled in sports and athletics. And they have severe asthma but that did not interfere with what they did. And they became the greatest athletes.

Learn more about Dr. Rafeeq