What is asthma?
Asthma also called bronchial asthma, is a chronic lung condition caused by inflammation and narrowing of the bronchial tubes, or the passageways through which the air enters and leaves the lungs.
Asthma causes recurring episodes of wheezing (whistling sound while breathing), chest tightness, shortness of breath, and fits of coughing.
The fits of coughing generally occur at night or early in the morning. Asthma, it is observed, typically starts during childhood, but can affect the people of any age.
If you, your child or any family members suffering from breathing problems, you should consult your doctor immediately, who can refer you to an allergist (a paediatrician who is specialist in allergies, and immunology), or in some cases a pulmonologist, if he feels symptoms of asthma.
As mentioned above, Asthma is an inflammatory disease or condition of the airways to the lungs. It makes breathing difficult and can make routine physical activities difficult or even impossible.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), approximately 27 million Americans suffering from asthma.
It’s the most common chronic disease among American children: 1 child out of every 12 has asthma.
To understand this disease, you have to understand a little about what happens when you breathe.
Generally, with every breath you take, air enters through your nose and passes down into your throat, into your airways, eventually making it to your lungs.
There are lots of small air passages in the lungs which help deliver oxygen from the air into your bloodstream.
Asthma symptoms develop when the lining of your airways swell and the muscles around them tighten. Mucus fills the airways, Which can further reduce the amount of air that can pass through.
Such conditions then bring on asthma “attack,” the coughing and tightness in the chest that is typical of this disease.
Many practitioners called this condition by name bronchoconstriction.
How does asthma occur?
Asthma occurs when an asthmatic’s air passages are inflamed or swollen. Asthmatic is a person suffering from this condition.
Because of the swelling, the air passages become the narrow and very low amount of air can pass to and from the lungs.
The swelling can also make the air passages sensitive due to that you can become susceptible to allergies.
The narrowing of the air passages can cause wheezing or a hissing sound while breathing, coughing, chest constriction, shortness of breath and chest pain.
What are the symptoms of asthma?
The symptoms of this disease can include:
- Coughing, generally at night or early morning
- Shortness of Breath
- Chest tightness with pain
- Difficulty in walking, Laughing or talking
- Skin becomes bluish colour
Having these symptoms does not always mean you are suffering from asthma.
Types of Asthma
The most common type of this disease is bronchial asthma, that affects the bronchi in the lungs.
Additional forms of bronchoconstriction are childhood asthma and adult-onset asthma. Adult-onset asthma symptoms don’t appear before the age of 20 years.
Other types of asthma include:
Allergic asthma (extrinsic asthma)
It is an immune system’s response to allergens in the environment such as:
- Pet dander from animals such as cats and dogs
It is more likely to be seasonal as it often goes hand-in-hand with seasonal allergies.
Extrinsic asthma causes 2 types of reactions:
- An instant hypersensitive response which occurs within thirty minutes of exposure to the allergen
- A delayed hypersensitive response which occurs 6 to 8 hours later
Non-allergic asthma (intrinsic asthma)
It is typically caused by sudden and extreme emotional reactions like laughing, stress, crying, anger, or due to contact with some chemicals such as cigarette smoke, aspirin, cleaning agents. It may also be caused by chest infection or exercising
Irritants in the air not related to allergies may trigger this type of this disease, such as:
- Burning wood
- Cigarette smoke
- Cold air
- Air pollution
- Viral illnesses
- Air fresheners
- Household cleaning products
Occupational bronchoconstriction is a type of asthma caused in the workplace, Such as:
- Gases and fumes
- Industrial chemicals
- Animal proteins
- Rubber Latex
These irritants can exist in a wide range of industries, such as farming, textiles, Dyes and Intermediate manufacturing, woodworking, and other manufacturing.
Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB)
It generally affects people within a few minutes of starting exercise and up to 10 to15 minutes after physical activity. This condition was previously called exercise-induced asthma (EIA).
Up to 90% of people with bronchoconstriction also experience EIB; however, not everyone with EIB will have other types of asthma.
In this type of, symptoms worsen at night.
Symptoms at night are heartburn, pet dander, and dust mites. The body’s natural sleep cycle can also responsible for nocturnal asthma.
Cough-variant asthma (CVA)
This type doesn’t have classic asthma symptoms of wheezing and shortness of breath. It is characterized by a persistent, dry cough.
What are the causes of asthma?
Asthma causes are different from person to person. If you suffer from this condition, knowing its pattern, as well as what triggers its symptoms can be very useful for you.
For example, if you feel the symptoms at home, something in the home environment may be triggering it. If the symptoms flare up during the spring season an outdoor allergen is most likely to responsible for that.
Some of the most common asthma causes include:
It is the most common form of asthma.
An allergy is a damaging response of your immune system to certain substances, like pollen grains, mold, or animal danders.
The immune system of the body treats these otherwise harmless substances, also known as allergens, as invaders and reacts in a way which can disrupt the body’s natural functions.
The most common irritants responsible for allergic asthma are:
- Dust Mites
- Animal danders (which is tiny flakes from their skin, fur, feathers, or saliva)
- Cockroach droppings
Irritants in the Air:
Certain irritants in the air can also cause this disease.
Few of such outdoor and indoor irritants are:
- Cigarette smoke
- Air pollution (for example car exhaust, smog, gas fumes, ozone, etc.)
- Strong fumes, aerosol sprays, odours or vapours (e.g. Paint, gasoline, perfumes and scented soaps)
- Dust and particles in the air
- Gas stoves,
- Wood fires fireplace smoke,
- charcoal grills, and cooking odours
- Formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds
This is the most common cause of asthma in children.
Respiratory infections can cause inflammation of the air passageways and develop severe asthma. They include:
- Throat infections
Exercising and any strenuous physical activity that leads you to breathe harder can be a cause for asthma.
Expressing Emotions Strongly:
Strong emotions can change the breathing pattern and can cause wheezing and other asthma-related symptoms.
Sudden emotional outbursts can be a cause for asthma such as:
If a person is sensitive to certain medicines, such as aspirin, NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) or beta blockers they may develop asthma.
Around 20 to 40 per cent of women complains of worsening asthma symptoms while the menstrual periods. This condition is also known as perimenstrual asthma. Hormonal changes are responsible for this condition.
Changes in the Weather:
Sudden changes in weather, like excess rainfall, dry winds, extreme heat, or cold winds can sometimes bring on asthma attacks.
Sulfites are added to some foods, (like potatoes, shrimp, dried fruit, beer, wine, and vinegar) to prevent them from spoiling which can cause an allergic reaction in sensitive people.
Obese people with a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 30 or greater – have twice the risk of asthma.
People who are constantly stressed have a greater risk of developing asthma.
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Babies born by Caesarean-Sections:
They have a 20 per cent risk of developing asthma compared to babies born through normal delivery. 37 babies per 1,000 babies born via C-section have asthma, compared to 34 per 1,000 in babies born vaginally.
Experts said that the immune system of the babies born by C -Section is weaker compared to the babies born vaginally.
Expectant mothers who smoke during their pregnancy put their babies at high risk of weaker pulmonary functions. Babies who are born prematurely are at a higher risk of asthma.
Children born to parents who have asthma are at a greater risk of contracting asthma.
Diagnosis of Asthma
To diagnose asthma, the doctor will ask the patient for his medical history, including his family history, especially if anyone in his family has asthma.
The doctor can also perform a general physical check-up and prescribe him to go for a lung function test, along with a sinus x-ray and chest x-ray.
If you or your children are having problems breathing on a regular basis, don’t wait! Consult a doctor immediately.
The lung function tests are:
What are the complications of asthma?
Asthma which is not properly managed can lead to:
- Constant fatigue
- Frequent leave from work/school because of constant asthma flare-ups
- Increased mucus production
- Thickening and narrowing of bronchial tubes which may become permanent leading to respiratory failure
- Respiratory failure
- Severe chest pain
Treatment of Asthma
To treat asthma effectively, the disease treatment action plan will help which includes identifying and avoiding asthma triggers, identifying the level of asthma toleration, using drug therapies, and having an emergency action plan in a queue in case of severe attacks.
You will need to proactively comply with the doctor to find out which course of treatment works best for you.
Each case of asthma is different, so depending on your condition, the doctor will develop an asthma treatment plan exclusively for you.
The treatment plan will include directions on how to take medicines as well as information about the certain asthma triggers you need to avoid.
The initial asthma treatment provided will depend upon the severity of the condition. The follow-up treatment will depend upon the response to the initial treatment.
The severity of the asthma attacks will vary in different environments, and also over time. The dosages of the medicines will also be changed accordingly by the doctor.
If you are able to control your symptoms efficiently, the doctor will decrease the dosage of your medicines.
Asthma is treated with 2 types of medicines –
- Long-term control medicines – It will help to reduce inflammation of the airway passages, hence reducing the asthma symptoms.
- Quick-relief medicines – It is emergency medicine to be taken during an asthma attack.
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The medicines can be taken in tablet/pill form, or by breathing them via nebulizer or an inhaler. An inhaler allows the medicine to deliver directly into the lungs.
Your level of asthma control can vary over time and with changes in your home, school, or work environments.
Asthma treatment will differ for different groups of people. For example, the treatment for people suffering from allergic asthma will be different from those in whom exercise-induced asthma symptoms.
Similarly, treatment for children will be varying from the treatment given to pregnant women.
These exercises can help you get more air into and out of the lungs. Over time, this can help increase lung capacity and slow down on severe asthma symptoms
First aid treatments
These medications can only be used in the event of an asthma attack. This can provide quick relief to help you breathe well. For examples:
- Rescue inhalers and nebulizers: It is used with medicine which needs to be inhaled deep into the lungs.
- Bronchodilators: It works to relax the tightened muscles in the lungs.
- Anti-inflammatories: This target inflammation in lungs that could be preventing your breathing
If you feel that someone you know is having an asthma attack, you need to sit them upright and assist them in using their rescue inhaler or nebulizer. 2 to 6 puffs of medication should help ease their symptoms.
If symptoms persist for more than twenty minutes, and the second round of medication doesn’t help, seek emergency medical attention.
Long-term asthma control medications
These medicines should be taken daily to prevent disease symptoms. Some rescue treatments, like inhalers and nebulizers, can be used daily. However, your doctor will need to adjust the proper dosages.
Asthma home remedies
Typically, OTC medicines and alternative home remedies aren’t encouraged as treatments for this disease. If not cured properly, It can be life-threatening.
However, certain home remedies can help stop symptoms from escalating and can be effective in an emergency:
A substance or compound in caffeine acts similarly to the asthma drug theophylline. It opens up airways and help ease symptoms of this condition for up to 4 hours.
Inhaling eucalyptus essential oil can ease breathing difficulties. Lavender and basil essential oils also show good result.
However, for some people, inhaling such essential oils may make asthma worse. Strong smells and chemicals may trigger worsen symptoms.
This fatty oil, made from compressed mustard seeds, can be massaged into the skin to help open airways. Mustard oil is different than mustard essential oil, a medicinal oil that shouldn’t be applied directly to the skin.
Because experts have yet to identify the exact cause of this disease, it’s a great challenge to know how a person can prevent the inflammatory condition.
However, strategies can include:
- Avoiding triggers
- Reducing exposure to allergens
- Allergen immunotherapy
- Taking preventive medication
Asthma in children
Read full article: Childhood Asthma – Treatment & Precautions
Management of asthma
In addition to using preventive medications, you can take steps each day to make yourself healthier and decrease your risk of chronic attacks. These can be:
- Eating a healthier diet
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Quitting smoking
- Exercising regularly
- Managing stress
- Nutrient-rich foods
Asthma risk factors
- Health History
Asthma affects 8% of women in their childbearing years, so it’s no wonder that asthma is one of the most common diseases during pregnancy.
There’s no proper direction to know how pregnancy will affect the asthmatic condition.
Some mothers don’t experience a change. For others, their pregnancy may make their disease better or even worse.
If symptoms worsen, it’s more likely to happen during your second and third trimesters.
Some women can also experience the onset of asthma during they’re pregnant.
If you have this disease, you should work closely with the doctor during your pregnancy to decrease risks for you and your growing fetus.
You may need to adjust the dosage of your preventive medicine. Your doctor may also want to alternate the emergency medicine you keep on hand in the event that your symptoms are worse than they were before your pregnancy.
It will be beneficial that you treat your asthma while you’re pregnant. Untreated condition can result in complications, such as:
- Severe morning sickness
- Preterm labor
- Pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
If your baby isn’t getting enough amount of oxygen, they can also experience certain health complications.
You need to Know!
- At the moment. There’s no exact cure for this disease. However, there are various effective treatments that can reduce the symptoms.
- Lifestyle changes and medications can also improve the quality of asthmatic patient’s life.
- 1 out of every 12 American children suffering from this condition. Approximately 27 million Americans have this disease.
- Management of this disease such as Diet, quit smoking, etc can help in reducing symptoms.
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