What Is Asthma?
Asthma is one of the most common condition in which the airways gets blocked with excess of mucus causing shortness of breath and wheezing. Millions of people all over the world suffer from asthma and it still remains the major cause for missed work days. When compared with other allergic conditions, the prevalence of asthma is rising steadily due to polluted environment. Asthma can be a minor nuisance or (like in many people) it can cause major problem in your life interfering with daily tasks. Each year about 5.5 million people take in-patient treatment in hospital for asthma and it has also become a major cause for medical emergency.
Some of the common symptoms of asthma are coughing, wheezing, tightness in the chest and shortness of breath. It is caused by various factors that includes both internal and external. The major cause for asthma is smoke, dust, air borne allergens and certain respiratory infections. Asthma cannot be cured but the symptoms can be managed by effective medications.
The symptoms of asthma range from mild to severe. In some cases it can cause severe asthma attack but for others it can trouble them only certain times like while doing workouts. Some of the general signs of asthma are shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing (whistling sound while exhaling air), chest tightness and trouble in sleeping due to repeated coughing. The symptoms become worse when the person gets cold or respiratory infection. For some people the symptoms get worse while doing exercise or exposed to certain allergens.
It can be occupational asthma when you are overly exposed to workplace of fumes and other gases or asthma can be allergy induced when a person is exposed to allergens like pollen and pet dander. Exposure to tobacco or smoke can worsen the symptoms even if it is passive smoking (inhaling smoke while others are smoking). Severe symptoms of asthma like rapid wheezing or increased difficulty in breathing. On such conditions you need to take immediate medical treatment.
- Child Asthma Symptoms :
Asthma symptoms vary widely from one child to other depending on the intensity of the condition. The child may cough frequently and is more when he/she is laughing or crying. It can cause rapid breathing and chronic cough for many children. The child may feel less energetic and can become tired easily. Some children may have whistling sound (wheezing) while exhaling air.
He may complain of pain in the chest or tightness and it can also cause tightness of chest muscles. For most children, the symptoms will become evident at the age of 5 years. The child can have frequent spells of respiratory infections like common cold. This is more so with children born with low birth weight.
- Symptoms of Asthma Attack :
Some of the life threatening symptoms of asthma attack are rapid breathing, severe wheezing, chest pain, and tightened chest muscles, difficulty in talking, pale face and lightheadedness.
It still remains a mystery why certain people are affected with asthma and others are not, when exposed to the same environment. Asthma can be inherited through genes or it can develop due to continuous exposure to allergens. The major triggers of asthma are airborne allergens like animal dander, pollen, dust mites and molds. An individual can get asthma when he has any respiratory infections like common cold or flu. Cold air or dryness can trigger asthma symptoms in many people. Exposure to smoke and dust and other air pollutants can cause asthma.
Asthma symptoms can develop when a person is under strong emotions. Intake of certain drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen for long term can cause asthma. Taking foods or beverages that contain preservatives can trigger asthma. In some people having GERD (a type of reflux disease induced due to acidity in the stomach) can cause asthma. Women may show improved symptoms during menstrual cycle when the hormones are at maximum level.
Risk Factors :
People with family history of asthma, frequent exposure to allergens, smoking, and being overweight and exposure to triggers like chemical fumes at workplace are at high risk of developing asthma.
Your doctor will collect complete medical history after physical exam. He will look for the above symptoms and may order for lung function test to find out how you are breathing. Spirometry test is done for checking the condition of bronchial tubes. He may also use peak flow meter to determine your breathing capacity. If required, he may order for additional tests like nitric oxide test, methacholine test and imaging tests like chest X-ray and CT scan of your lungs.
Asthma Types :
Based on the symptoms and its severity, asthma can be broadly divided into 4 types.
- Mild intermittent asthma is one in which a person will have mild symptoms for few days or a week.
- Mild persistent asthma is a type in which the symptoms appear two to three times in a week.
- Moderate persistent type is one in which there will be symptoms many times in the same day and trouble sleeping at night.
- Severe persistent asthma is one in which the symptoms will remain throughout the day and interfere with daily activities and it can cause frequent disturbance in sleeping pattern.
There is no cure for asthma but medications are available to control the symptoms. Once you are diagnosed with asthma, you need to find out what factors triggers the symptoms and accordingly take steps to avoid those symptoms and triggers. You can prevent asthma attack easily if you keep things under control. Your doctor will choose the right medication for you depending on your age, health condition and triggering factors. The goal of the treatment is to clear the mucus developed in the nasal airways and to provide quick relief from symptoms.
Corticosteroid inhalers like Flovent HFA, Pulmicort, Aerobid and Alvesco are prescribed for patients with long term asthma symptoms. But you have to follow the instructions of your doctor and continue using these anti-inflammatory medications for several weeks. Oral drugs like leukotriene modifiers help you in giving relief from the symptoms of asthma. But it can cause side effects like depression, agitation and aggression in some people. Inhalers like serevent, and Foradil are effective in clearing the blocked airways. For some people combination of two medications like fluticasone and salmeterol is prescribed in the form of inhaler.
Some of the quick relief giving medications are Atrovent (bronchodilator), beta agonists like albuterol, pirbuterol and levalbuterol. In case allergy is the problem for your asthma, you can take allergy shots that reduce the response of your immune system to allergens. People with severe asthma can use Omalizumab injection once in a week or two to control asthma symptoms. Bronchial thermoplasty can provide relief for you if you are not comfortable with inhaled corticosteroids.
But remember the treatment method is not the same for everyone with asthma, since the treatment should be effective in controlling the symptoms. Your doctor will adjust and choose suitable medication based on your symptoms. He may devise a stepwise plan and make changes in medications if your symptoms get worse.
Lifestyle Changes :
You can reduce the chance of exposure to airborne allergens by keeping your house and workplace clean. You can frequently change pillows and mattresses and choose dustproof covers in the place of ordinary. Alternatively you can fix hardwood flooring in the place of carpets that carries high risk of allergens. You can prevent airborne pollen in your bedroom by installing air conditioner in your bedroom. In case you cannot afford for A/C you can always keep your windows closed to reduce dust mites and pollen.
Avoid moisture in bathrooms and kitchen by frequently cleaning the bathroom to prevent mold spores. Remove dried leaves and damp firewood in your garden. In case pet dander is the major trigger for your asthma, you can avoid having pets and avoid using furry objects. Always cover your face and nose if the weather is cold outside and you need to go out in dry air. You can do regular exercise after getting concurrence from your doctor. Eat healthy diet and include fresh fruits and vegetables that are rich in antioxidants. If you have Gastroesophageal Reflux disease it can affect your lung airways and hence take suitable treatment to keep things under control.