What is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease in which the airways inside the lungs become red and swollen, making them extra-sensitive to certain triggers from the environment. When a person with sensitized airways breathes in a trigger, the airways swell more and secrete mucous. The muscles of the airways contract, making it difficult to breathe. This situation is known as an asthma attack or episode.
Here are some facts about asthma:
- It is a chronic condition that people live with daily.
- Asthma has no cure, but the condition can be kept under control to live a normal life.
- Asthma can occur at any age. Children can develop asthma when young and may lose symptoms as they grow up. Some people have asthma attack for the first time when they are older.
What causes asthma?
The exact cause why asthma gets triggered is not known, but genetics and environmental factors are known to play a role in its development. These include:
- Genes – The disease tends to run in families. A parent or parents with asthma are more likely to pass it on to their children.
- Allergies – Every person has a different susceptibility towards different allergens. Dust, air pollutants, paints, cat or dog proteins, etc. could irritate a person’s airways can make them vulnerable to an asthma attack. Repeated or continued exposure to the allergen is believed to aggravate the condition.
- Respiratory infections – Certain infections of the respiratory tract cause lung tissue inflammation and even damage. Lung function can be impaired in the long run if a person suffered these infections in early childhood.
- Environmental factors – Chances of developing asthma are greater if you are living in an urban area (air pollution, irritants), suffer from allergies or stay with a person who smokes.
What are the different types of asthma?
Asthma is classified into specific types based on how or when it is induced in a person. Knowing what type of asthma a person has is crucial in devising the right control strategies.
- Child-onset asthma – In this type, a child develops asthma due to exposure to environmental allergens at an early age. Most commonly, the child is genetically predisposed to this hypersenstivity (atopy).
- Adult-onset asthma – Less common, this asthma sets in after 20 years of age and is more among women. This type of asthma develops from an allergic trigger.
- Allergy asthma – The asthma that results from exposure and sensitization to an allergen is called allergic asthma. Exposure causes the body to release histamines, which cause the allergy symptoms.
- Exercise-induced asthma – Physical exersion or exercise begins to cause airway constriction in susceptible persons, making it difficult to breathe.
- Cough-variant asthma – Cough is the major symptom in this kind of asthma. Exercise and respiratory infections are the common triggers for cough-variant asthma.
- Occupational asthma – Certain jobs expose people to allergens that can trigger asthma. Symptoms are mostly a congestion, runny nose and eye irritation.
- Night-time asthma – Asthma is strongly affected by sleep-wake cycle and it is not uncommon for people to experience the worst symptoms at night.
Life with asthma
Though asthma is a chronic condition, its symptoms are easily controlled. When it develops during childhood, the condition may reduce as the person approaches adulthood (though it can return at a later time in life). Adult-onset asthma, however, generally continues through life. With inputs from patients, doctors devise a control plan for patients to manage symptoms and prepare for emergencies like asthma attacks.
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