What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic, yet reversible, lung disease that constricts the bronchial tubes (breathing passages). Asthma signs and symptoms may vary from person to person.
It affects an estimated 17 million Americans, including close to 5 million children as per child facts. It’s believed that many more have undetected asthma and go untreated.
Although asthma frequently begins in childhood, with half of all cases first occurring in children under the age of 10, it’s no longer considered a disease that children “outgrow” when they become teens.
Asthma can strike at any age and any time, causing even the fittest person to wheeze, cough, and gasp.
These attacks can last for anywhere from a few minutes to more than a day.
During an asthma episode, the breathing passages are narrowed in three ways: the muscles surrounding the bronchial tubes constrict, the lining (mucosa) of the tubes becomes swollen, and there is increased mucus secretion. In all instances breathing becomes very difficult.
Patterns of asthma attacks differ from person to person, with symptoms ranging from mild and intermittent—shortness of breath and chest tightness, which require quick-relief medication—to severe and persistent, which require long-term control medications to keep the airways open.
It’s critical that individuals understand the disease and their own symptoms and triggers. Asthma attacks may be predictable, occurring, for example, whenever a person comes into contact with a cat or performs strenuous exercise in cold weather.
Conversely, the attacks may come on unexpectedly. Some people experience seasonal variations; some have nighttime episodes; some have continuous symptoms. Severe cases may warrant emergency hospitalization.
What Causes Asthma?
Before moving on toward Asthma Signs and Symptoms lets talk about the causes of asthma. Asthma can be either extrinsic or intrinsic.
Extrinsic asthma is caused by an overreaction or hypersensitivity to certain external triggers. These triggers aren’t obvious with intrinsic asthma.
The triggers that cause extrinsic asthma episodes are many and varied.
They include viral respiratory infections; exposure to pollen, mold, and dust mites; cockroach and animal dander (more than half the people with asthma have allergies);
exposure to chemicals or allergens; exposure to tobacco smoke, perfumes, hairsprays, air pollutants, vapors, gases, and aerosols;
emotional expressions such as fear, anger, frustration, crying, and laughing; medications such as aspirin, food additives, and preservatives; and changes in weather, humidity, and air temperature.
It’s ironic that aerobic exercise, which helps strengthen the body and makes it more efficient in its use of oxygen, may also be a major trigger of asthma.
This type of asthma, called exercise-induced asthma, or EIA, affects 1 in 10 people (60 to 80 percent of people with asthma).
Because exertion soon triggers an uncomfortable attack, many people with asthma are afraid to exercise.
In cases of intrinsic asthma, no external allergen can be identified. However, a severe respiratory infection, such as bronchitis, generally precedes an intrinsic asthma episode.
Asthma can then be aggravated by emotional stress, pollution, fatigue, and changes in temperature.
Also Read: Allergies and Asthma Home Remedies
Symptoms of Asthma
Mild Asthma Symptoms
- Shortness of breath or breathing difficulty
- Coughing, wheezing, or rapid, shallow breathing that’s eased by sitting up
- Coughing, especially at night, possibly with a production of a thick, clear, or yellow sputum
- Whistling sound when breathing
- Sense of suffocation
- Painless tightness in the chest
More Severe Asthma Symptoms
- Inability to speak more than a few words without gasping for breath
- Clenched or constricted neck muscles
- Rapid pulse
Emergency Asthma Symptoms
- Bluish tinge to the fingertips, lips, or face
- Extremely labored breathing
- A profound feeling of exhaustion
Home Remedies for Asthma
If you have asthma, you need to work with a physician to manage and control your condition.
There is no known cure for asthma, but most asthma can be controlled by a two-pronged strategy aimed at preventing acute episodes and stopping those episodes that do occur.
In addition to medications and other measures, you will obtain from your doctor, take the following steps.
- Remain calm. Panic can worsen your condition during an asthma episode.
- Breathe deeply. When experiencing asthma, sit upright and lean forward, taking in deep, rhythmic breaths.
- Avoid triggers. The best treatment is to stay away from substances that cause your asthma attacks.
- Monitor your lung capacity. A peak-flow meter is a hand-held device that measures how fast you can blow air out of your lungs; it should be an indispensable part of your treatment program.
Since peak airflow often drops as much as a day or two before actual asthma symptoms become profound, regular peak-flow testing will help you assess the severity of your asthma.
What If You Do Nothing about Asthma?
Although there is no cure for asthma, trying to ignore asthma symptoms, however mild, is a mistake because the breathing difficulties it causes will prevent you from living a full and active life.
While seldom fatal, asthma is a chronic disease that needs constant monitoring and medical attention.
Prevention of Asthma
- Identify your asthma triggers. Keep a diary and note when your episodes occur and what seems to trigger them.
Include emotional and situational factors as well as environmental stimuli and foods. Check at home and at work.
Common triggers include pollen, dust mites, aspirin, cat dander, chocolate, milk, nuts, and fish; avoid as many of these as possible.
- Don’t smoke. If you do, quit. Avoid secondary smoke as well.
- Vacuum regularly. Reducing the amount of dust in your home will ease symptoms. Get rid of (and avoid buying) carpets that are difficult to clean.
- Drink plenty of water. You will need at least eight glasses of liquid a day to help loosen airway secretions and maintain hydration.
- Take precautions in cold weather. Cold air can trigger an asthma attack. In cold weather, cover your nose and mouth with a scarf in order to filter, humidity, and warm the air that you breathe in.
- Exercise regularly. By staying physically fit, you will strengthen your body, especially your lungs. Water aerobics and swimming are two good choices since these exercises will allow you to be breathing humidified air. If a particular exercise triggers an asthma episode, talk with your physician about adjusting or changing your medication.
When to Call Your Doctor
Contact your doctor if you develop asthma signs and symptoms for the first time. If you have been diagnosed with asthma and you have an episode that does not respond to self-treatment, contact your physician immediately or go to a hospital emergency room.
Also contact your physician if your asthma medication isn’t working as it’s supposed to or if you develop new and unexplained symptoms.
What Your Doctor Will Do
A thorough medical history and physical exam focusing on the upper respiratory tract will be performed. Special tests may be taken to determine what triggers your acute attacks.
Chest x-rays may be taken and a pulmonary function exam, a test to measure how much air you inhale and exhale, may be given.
Once a positive diagnosis has been made, the key is to work with your physician to find effective drugs and dosages that can prevent acute asthma episodes.
Various asthma drugs may be prescribed to prevent attacks and halt symptoms when they occur. You should become thoroughly familiar with the medications prescribed for you and with how and when to take them.
(Many of these drugs are available in oral inhalers; using an inhaler properly greatly increases the effectiveness of the medication.)
Experts now believe that asthma is an inflammatory disease that develops within the first few years of life. The air passages of people who have asthma, even those who suffer their first acute attack long after childhood, progressively become inflamed.
This causes them to be swollen and to react strongly to inhaled irritants such as dust, pollen, tobacco smoke, air pollution, and cat dander.
Even changes in weather can trigger an asthma episode. The main goal of asthma treatment is now to reduce this airway inflammation.
Asthma may stop on its own or with medication. Once an episode has subsided, breathing returns to normal.
To date, there is no known cure for the disorder, but with new medications and techniques, it can be managed to the point that most people with asthma can expect to have few or no symptoms or complications.
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