ABOUT Asthma - Symptoms, Causes and Treatments
An introduction to the common respiratory condition and what you can do about it.
Asthma is a chronic condition, usually started in childhood, that causes inflammation and spasms of the airways. It's characterized by episodes of wheezing, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing (dyspnea). These episodes are triggered by environmental exposures such as tobacco smoke or cold air that cause bronchospasms; exercise; or infection with viruses such as rhinovirus or influenza. These triggers cause inflammation of the bronchial tubes which leads to increased mucus production and swelling in the large airways (bronchi). As a result, asthma symptoms appear and asthma attacks occur.
Asthma rates have increased worldwide in the last 20 years, with more than 300 million people affected worldwide. This is most likely due to our modern lifestyle, which includes indoor heating and air conditioning, cigarette smoking, and pollution.
Types of Asthma
Allergic asthma or extrinsic asthma results from an allergic reaction. A type of immune system response occurs in the body when an allergen (an environmental trigger) enters the body. For example, these triggers can be pollen or pet dander that then cause inflammation in the airways when they enter the lungs. This triggers an overproduction of mucus that clogs up your airways making it difficult for you to breathe. Not only is this an issue, but the immune system will also release chemicals that can cause itching and swell in the airway muscles.
Non-allergic asthma or intrinsic asthma occurs when there is no allergic component present. Instead, it is believed to be caused by an imbalance between certain molecules that relax and dilate the airways (such as nitric oxide) and those that contract them (such as leukotriene). This causes the airways to swell up, become inflamed, and eventually collapse entirely during an asthma attack.
Treatment for asthma includes avoiding specific triggers such as pollen or pet dander if possible, however, these triggers can be difficult to avoid in some areas of the world.
Symptoms of Asthma
- Wheezing - a whistling sound when breathing
- Coughing - a chronic cough that occurs with asthma
- Chest tightness or pain - chest pain during an asthma attack
Trouble breathing- shortness of breath, which can eventually progress to being unable to breathe at all if not treated immediately. This is an acute asthma attack and is the most serious type of attack. In order to prevent or alleviate this, medications such as inhalers or steroids will be used. These medications can be administered by a doctor in an outpatient setting via a nebulizer. This mist is inhaled and helps loosen the mucus in your airways and lung tissue allowing you to breathe easier.
Treatment of Asthma
Asthma can be a very serious condition, so it's important to stay on top of the disease by being aware of your triggers and taking your medications. If you have severe asthma, it is recommended that you check in with a doctor regularly to monitor treatments and health.
Although asthma cannot be cured, there are many ways that doctors can treat the disease which allows the patient to live a normal life. They do this by providing patients with medications such as inhalers/puffs or nebulizers to help reduce the inflammation and breathing difficulties from asthma attacks. Asthma attacks occur when a person's airways swell up because of an allergic reaction or other factors such as cold air or exercise. By treating the inflammation with medications, a person's airways will be opened up and their breathing difficulties will be alleviated.
Certain asthma medications can also help prevent a person from having future attacks. For example, some preventative asthma medications contain steroids that can reduce inflammation in a patient's airways and keep them from swelling. Other preventative asthma medications may include long terms adrenergic anti-inflammatory agents such as salmeterol or fluticasone.
These types of asthma medication are used to treat seasonal allergies, however, they work well at preventing asthma attacks as well.
In terms of how doctors treat an acute asthma attack, nebulizers are often used to deliver specific medication directly to a person's lungs through breathing treatments.
Living with Asthma
While there is no long term cure, living with asthma can be done in many ways. For example, it is important for children to learn how to take care of their asthma at a very young age, so they are able to take the proper measures when they go through an attack.
An early diagnosis during childhood can also lead to better management throughout adolescence and adulthood. This allows the patient to make the necessary lifestyle changes that will help them cope with their disease.
As for adults that have asthma, it is important that they take steps in preventing further attacks by learning how to manage their disease correctly.
FAQ’s on Asthma
Why is asthma not curable?
The reason why asthma is hard to cure is that most of the attacks are done by our own immune system and usually, these attacks are very complex.
Will an asthma inhaler help with the cough?
There are many medications prescribed for you and inhalers are among one of them. An inhaler helps you with opening up the airway of the lung and relieve you from inflammation.