There are more than 3 million cases of asthma in the U.S. Treating asthma is a passion of Dr. Abdullah Altayeh, pulmonologist and director of critical care at Mercyhealth, Rockford. He is using the most modern treatments available.
Asthma is a condition in which airways narrow. When patients come to him with symptoms like dry cough, wheezing or chest tightness, Altayeh typically administers a pulmonary function test.
“We give them an inhaler to see if there’s a significant improvement in their lung capacity,” he says.
In another breathing test, the methacholine challenge test, Altayeh gives very small doses of a medicine that purposefully triggers an asthma attack. If lung capacity decreases by 19 percent or more, a diagnosis of asthma is made.
Altayeh also may administer an allergy rash panel to test patients for 20 specific allergies that trigger attacks.
“If you have asthma, you need to be very diligent and understand what your triggers are,” he explains.
Asthma may be intermittent, mildly persistent, moderately persistent or severe. Patients with intermittent asthma may need to use an inhaler about once a month. Patients with mildly persistent symptoms sometimes awaken with shortness of breath and need an inhaler a few times a week. They need a short-acting beta agonist, commonly known as albuterol, to experience quick relief.
Patients with moderate-persistent asthma may require a steroid inhaler along with their rescue inhaler, Altayeh explains. Steroids help to reduce lung inflammation, which opens airways.
Patients with severe asthma may require a third type of inhaler called a long-acting muscarinic agonist to reduce inflammation.
During the past few years, Altayeh has begun using a newer treatment for patients with more severe asthma – injections of biological agents that work on the immune system to reduce the body’s inflammatory response to asthmatic triggers in the environment.
“So, the inflammation in your lungs doesn’t act up as much, plus you don’t require steroids, which can have negative side effects, long-term. These biological agents are at the forefront of medicine.”
Altayeh also is trained in a procedure called broncothermoplasty, in which he maneuvers a camera into a patient’s lungs and warms up peripheral airways with a catheter, which reduces inflammation. He’s one of only a few physicians qualified to conduct this procedure.
“I enjoy being able to help people who are very sick go home to their family and loved ones,” he says. “That feeling is very rewarding.” ❚