What is Asthma?
It is a widespread chronic disease in which the airways of your body are severely affected. It leads to a condition where your airways that transmit air from the lungs and back, become tapered, swell and start producing large amounts of mucus. Persons, young or adult, who suffer from this inflammatory disease, are called asthmatic patients. The disease is also known as bronchial asthma.
If you are suffering from asthma, it is essential to know what causes this disease. The inner walls of an asthmatic patient become swollen and experience inflammation. As a result of the swelling, the sensitivity of your airways to irritation increases, thus they become more prone to allergic reactions.
This inflammation also makes the airways thinner, thus there is obstruction in the passage of air back and forth from the lungs. As a result you suffer from symptoms like wheezing (troubled breathing which creates a hissing noise), difficulty in breathing, sudden coughing and tightness of the chest. These symptoms are usually more frequent at night and in the early mornings.
Who gets Asthma?
Bronchial asthma is a disease that does not have any cure. This disease isn’t contagious and does not spread from person to person through contact or touch. Although, the specific causes have yet not been identified by medical science, the disease is hereditary and you can suffer from this problem if you have a family history. Asthma can also occur because of environmental reasons- chances of suffering from the disease are greater if you are living in an urban area, suffer from allergies or stay with a person who smokes.
If your parent suffers from this problem it does not mean that you will also suffer from asthma. It is just that you have a greater tendency to develop the disease.
Asthma has certain ‘triggers’, if you are constantly exposed to these triggers the tendency to develop the disease increases. The asthma symptoms include: pollens from flowers, dust, roaches, air pollutants and smoke.
What are the signs/symptoms of Asthma?
Some commonly associated asthma symptoms are:
- Sudden bouts of coughing, usually during the night or early morning, making it very difficult to sleep.
- Making a hissing or heavy sound, called wheezing when you breathe in and out.
- Heaviness and tightness of the chest, causing a feeling that someone is either squeezing or putting a weight on your chest.
- Problems with catching your breath, you will have a feeling that you just cannot let the air out of your lungs.
These symptoms are also common for illnesses like the common cold. Thus it does not mean that if you face these symptoms you have developed asthma. Similarly, all persons who have asthma do not suffer from the same symptoms. The only way to determine if you suffer from asthma symptoms is to visit your general practitioner. Mild symptoms do not create much hindrance in your daily life, but severe symptoms can cause major disruptions. Thus it is essential that you get them treated.
What are different types of Asthma?
Asthma can be classified into 6 different kinds. They are:
- When an allergy leads to an asthma attack it is known as allergic asthma. Allergy to Dust, cockroaches, pollen and smoke can trigger an attack. Allergy to certain kinds of food can also cause an attack.
- Asthma attack can occur even without an allergic reaction. It may occur due to a respiratory infection, cold or flu.
- An asthma attack when triggered by an aspirin is termed as Aspirin Exacerbated Respiratory Disease (AERD). Taking an aspirin may lead to a runny nose or wheezing, thus triggering an attack.
- Some asthmatics suffer from attacks when they indulge in physical activities like running and sports. This is called exercise induced asthma. They have to take an inhaled bronchodilator medication to clear the air passage.
- When asthma is identified by a dry cough, it is called a cough variant. Affecting both adults and children, it may occur at any time of the day.
- Occupational asthma is an attack that occurs due to an irritant at the work place. It may be in the form of smoke or chlorine. In this case it is essential that the patient finds out the irritant and take necessary steps to prevent future attacks.
How is childhood Asthma different from Asthma of adulthood?
Research by the American Lung Association states, 7.1 million kids under the age of 18 suffer from asthma. Symptoms of asthma are more rampant in the early age. Adult-onset of asthma is common in persons who have crossed the age of 50.
The difference between childhood and adult asthma is that in symptoms of asthma in children, the children face intermittent symptoms. At times symptoms of asthma in children occur due to allergic reactions and at times they do not. In case of adults suffering from asthma, the symptoms are essentially persistent. They require regular treatment.
Is Asthma related to allergies?
Yes, very often asthma is related to allergies. In fact, allergic asthma is a kind of asthma, in which the attacks occur due to certain allergic reactions that lead to abnormal breathing or wheezing.
Is Asthma related to smoking or pollution?
The research conducted by medical science has not yet proved if polluted air or smoking leads to the onset of asthma, but it has certainly identified these two as factors that make asthma symptoms and attacks worse.
Pollutants of the air are especially harmful for children suffering from asthma. These pollutants include carbon monoxide emitted from vehicles and sulphur dioxide due to combustion of fossil fuel. It is essential that the air quality index of your area is low, to effectively control asthma.
Children are also greatly affected by cigarette smoke. This is because of the fact that their lungs are comparatively smaller.
How do I know if I have Asthma?
Although symptoms of bronchial asthma are common to other diseases, there are certain ways through which you can determine if you have asthma. One of the most familiar signs of a lung disease is continuous coughing. A persistent cough, especially in children may be due to asthma. Thus it is important that you take your child to his pediatrician as soon as possible.
What are the tests to confirm Asthma?
Your doctor might recommend certain tests to identify if you suffer from asthma, they are:
- Lung function test- Tests that make an assessment of the functioning of the lung are called Lung function tests. Essentially there are two kinds of lung function tests – methacholine test and a spirometry test. Both involve blowing out air and the amount you blow out will establish if you have asthma and its extent.
- X-ray – A chest x-ray is not a test, but it helps the doctor to determine if you have asthma.
- Heartburn and GERD evaluation – Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) worsens asthma attacks, thus in some cases the doctor might recommend some test to determine if you suffer from this disease.
- Tests for allergies – These tests help your doctor to determine if any allergies that you suffer from play a role in triggering attacks.
- Tests for sinus – A CT scan is recommended to evaluate sinus. This condition makes it difficult to treat asthma. Thus it is important for your doctor to know if you suffer from sinus to treat your asthma.
Is Asthma curable?
No, Asthma cannot be cured. The disease can only be controlled with proper medication and care. The treatment for this disease goes on for a long period of time, for some people asthma treatment is a lifelong process.
In case of children suffering from asthma, most outgrow the disease till they reach adolescence. Only continuous exposure to pollutants and other triggers may lead to an attack. Thus one has to be careful at all times. Asthma treatment for children is given through medication and inhalers.
What is the treatment for Asthma?
As asthma cannot be cured, the best way to treat this disease is through effective control. It is recommended that you consult your doctor and discuss an action plan for asthma treatment, which will become an essential part of your daily routine.
This action plan will detail your treatments and the various medicines that you have to take. It is best that you be careful and preferably stay away from triggers. It is necessary that you always keep an inhaler handy, in case you suffer from an attack.
It is important that you track your attacks. Keep a diary and make a record of all your symptoms and the frequency and time of each. You can use a peak flow meter to measure your lung power regularly. Go for regular health and asthma checkups to the doctor. If at any time you have doubts call your doctor to clear them.
A different kind of treatment is meted out to special groups like children and pregnant women, in this case it is best that you visit your doctor and obtain the necessary treatment.
Are steroids used for treatment of Asthma harmful for me?
No in most cases the steroids used for the asthma cure are not harmful. Corticosteroids are used for asthma cure; these are a copy of the steroids that are naturally produced in the body. Thus they are safe. These steroids are different from the ones taken by body builders and sportsmen. Moreover, they are inhaled and go directly into the lungs, so they do not enter the blood stream at all.
Sometimes doctors prescribe steroid pills for control of asthma. These pills and inhalers may have certain side effects. Your voice may become husky temporarily, but it will go back to normal in no time.
What lifestyle changes are recommended for an Asthma patient?
No major lifestyle changes are recommended for asthmatic patients who are looking for an asthma cure. All you have to do is be more careful about your health and fitness. If you suffer from asthma it is essential that you stop smoking. It will considerably reduce the intensity and frequency of your attacks. In case you suffer from allergic asthma, make sure that you avoid the triggers. Avoid eating any food that you are allergic to and which might lead to the onset of asthma symptoms.
It is essential that you make regular visits to your doctor and take your vaccinations if advised by your physician.
What is Asthma attack (Status asthmaticus)?
Narrowing of the airways of the lungs may lead to an asthma attack. It involves severe coughing and wheezing, accompanied with troubled breathing. A minor one can be easily treated at home, but a major asthma attack is life threatening and needs to be medically treated immediately.
An attack, which is severe to the extent that bronchodilators do not work, leading to the potential failure of the respiratory system is termed as Status asthmaticus. It requires instant medical care and can lead to death if there is any delay.
Can I prevent an Asthma attack?
Yes you can prevent asthma attacks easily by following a few simple steps –
- Ensure that you keep your house clean. It should be dust free and use a dehumidifier to get rid of the excess moisture in your home.
- Make sure that your pets are not allowed in your bedroom or on any household furniture. This is because pet dander is one of the most common triggers of asthma.
- Avoid smoking and also avoid those areas with high levels of smoke.
- Make sure that you take your medicines regularly.
- Follow your asthma action plan strictly and do not miss your appointments with the doctor.
- Keep a track of your symptoms and their intensity.