Asthma is a long-term lung condition. People with asthma have sensitive airways in their lungs which react to triggers. When the airways react, the muscles around them tighten. This narrows the airways, causing less air to flow into the lungs. The swelling also can worsen, making the airways even narrower. Cells in the airways might make more mucus than usual. Mucus is a sticky, thick liquid that can further narrow the airways.
This chain reaction can result in asthma symptoms – “flare-ups”. In a flare-up, the muscles around the airway squeeze tight, the airways swell and become narrow and there is more mucus. These things make it harder to breathe. Asthma causes breathing problems.
It is common in kids and teens, and tends to run in families. It can be mild or so severe that it gets in the way of daily activities. Although there is currently no cure, with the right knowledge and good management, most people with asthma can lead full and active lives.
What causes asthma?
Asthma is not contagious. However, the exact cause is unknown. Researchers think some genetic and environmental factors interact, most often early in life.
Just because you have a parent with asthma doesn’t mean you’ll have it too. But if one or both of your parents has the condition, it’s more likely you will too. Exactly why, researchers aren’t sure.
Risk factors of asthma
Asthma affects people of all ages, but it most often starts during childhood. According to the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, more than 22 million people are known to have asthma. Out of these, 6 million are children.
Not everyone suffering from asthma inherited it from his parents. Exposure to various irritants and substances that trigger allergies can trigger asthma. Asthma triggers are different from person to person.
Triggers in the environment such as exposure to secondhand smoke, pollen, pet dander, mold spores or dust mites predispose you to develop asthma. Also exposure to chemicals used in farming and workplaces can equally make u develop it. Moreover, early respiratory infections such as the common cold if not treated well increases your risk. Additionally, allergic reactions such as allergic rhinitis is also a factor.
What are some of the factors that can trigger an asthmatic attack?
Asthma symptoms can appear when you are exposed to a trigger. A trigger is something you are sensitive to that makes your airways become inflamed. This causes swelling, mucus production and narrowing in your airways.
An asthmatic attack is when asthma symptoms start up or get worse compared to usual. The symptoms won’t go away by themselves and need treatment. Some flare-ups are serious, but others are mild. These flare-ups can happen quite quickly such as if you are exposed to smoke. Besides, they can also come on gradually over hours or days such as if you get a cold.
It is important to know some asthmatic triggers in order to avoid them. Some of these factors include airborne substances, such as pollen, dust mites, mold spores, pet dander or particles of cockroach waste and are pollutants and irritants, such as smoke.
Respiratory infections, such as the common cold could precipitate an attack. When you are the type that gets strong emotions and stress you need to reduce it. Other factors are; physical activity, certain medications, including aspirin, ibuprofen. Preservatives added to some types of foods and beverages, including shrimp, dried fruit, processed potatoes, beer and wine.
What are the signs and symptoms of asthma?
A person’s asthma symptoms can vary over time. Sometimes they will have no symptoms, especially when their asthma is well-controlled. Symptoms often vary from person to person, but they are most commonly:
- breathlessness – a feeling of not being able to get enough air
- wheezing – a continuous, high-pitched sound coming from the chest whiles breathing
- tight feeling in the chest – this may feel like something is squeezing or sitting on your chest.
- continuous cough
Symptoms often occur at night, early in the morning or during/just after activity. They occur due to the narrowing of the airways. Severe symptoms can be fatal. It’s important to treat symptoms when you first notice them so they don’t become severe. Not all people who have asthma have these symptoms. Likewise, having these symptoms doesn’t always mean that you have asthma. If you’re not sure if you have asthma you should see your doctor.
Your doctor diagnoses asthma by taking a thorough medical history. He also performs breathing tests to measure how well your lungs work.
One of these tests is spirometry. You will take a deep breath and blow into a sensor to measure the amount of air your lungs can hold and the speed of the air you breath in and out. This test diagnoses the severity and measures how well treatment is working.
Many people with asthma also have allergies, so your doctor may perform allergy testing. Treating the underlying allergic triggers for your asthma will help you avoid asthma symptoms. Your doctor may recommend other tests if he or she needs more information to make a diagnosis.
Sometimes it is not possible to be sure whether a young child has asthma or not, until they are old enough to do the spirometry test. Wheezing and coughing are very common in little children, even if they do not have the condition. A child may wheeze because he or she has small airways that become even narrower during colds or respiratory infections. The airways grow as the child grows older, so wheezing no longer occurs when the child gets colds.
Medicines and treatment
Allergists are specially trained to help you take control of your asthma so that you can live the life you want. They will work with you to identify your triggers and then build a plan to help you avoid and manage those triggers. They may also prescribe medications for you.
Your initial treatment will depend on the severity of your condition. Follow-up treatment will depend on how well your action plan is controlling your symptoms and preventing asthmatic attacks.
Your doctor may need to increase your medicine if your condition doesn’t stay under control. On the other hand, if it is well controlled for several months, your doctor may decrease your medicine. These adjustments to your medicine will help you maintain the best control possible with the least amount of medicine necessary.
If you have asthma, you should keep your rescue inhaler with you. It should be with you wherever you are – at work, at school or on vacation. It is important that you use your inhaler correctly to ensure that you are getting maximum benefit from your medication.
The two main types medicines used are relievers and preventers. These are usually in inhalers or puffers. There is also a preventer which is a tablet, used by some people. Some other medicines such as prednisone tablets are only used for severe asthmatic flare-ups.
Relievers for adults and children
Everyone who has asthma needs a reliever such as a ‘puffer’ to use when they have asthma symptoms. Most relievers are available from pharmacies without a prescription. Relievers should only be used when you or your child has symptoms and should not be over-used.
Preventers or controllers
They reduce inflammation in the airways. Controllers should be taken every day. You will know that the controller medication is working. Because you will over time, have fewer and fewer symptoms. When your asthma is totally controlled and you have no symptoms, do not stop taking them. If you do, the airway inflammation may return.
Inhaled corticosteroids include several different medicines and brands. This type of preventer medicine reduces inflammation in the airways and reduces a person’s risk of a severe asthma flare-up. Most adults can achieve good control of asthma symptoms with a low dose.
Preventers sometimes include a second medicine as well as the inhaled corticosteroid. These are called ‘combination’ therapies.
Avoid Things That Can Worsen Your Asthma
Many common things can set off or worsen your symptoms. Once you know what these things are, you can take steps to control many of them.
E.g. exposure to pollens or air pollution might make your condition worse. If so, try to limit time outdoors when the levels of these substances in the outdoor air are high. If animal fur triggers your symptoms, keep pets with fur out of your home or bedroom.
One possible trigger you shouldn’t avoid is physical activity. Physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Talk with your doctor about medicines that can help you stay active.
If your symptoms are clearly related to allergens, and you can’t avoid exposure to those allergens, your doctor may advise you to get allergy shots. See a specialist if you’re thinking about getting allergy shots. These shots can lessen or prevent your symptoms, but they can’t cure you.
How can i prevent asthma
- Get vaccinated for influenza and pneumonia which are asthmatic triggers.
- Identify and avoid asthmatic triggers. Find out what causes or worsens your asthma, and take steps to avoid those asthmatic triggers.
- Monitor your breathing. You may learn to recognize warning signs of an impending attack, such as slight coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath. Regularly measure and record your peak airflow with a home peak flow meter.
- Identify and treat attacks early. If you act quickly, you’re less likely to have a severe attack. You also won’t need as much medication to control your symptoms.
- Take your medication as prescribed. Just because your symptoms seems to be improving, don’t change anything without first talking to your doctor. It’s a good idea to bring your medications with you to each doctor visit, so your doctor can double-check that you’re using your medications correctly and taking the right dose.
Can asthma cause further health problems for me?
Yes. It can progress to status asthmaticus which is a severe form. Inflamed airways also prone you to other respiratory infections such as pneumonia.