Asthma is a respiratory disorder of the lungs. Asthma affects normal breathing; routine physical activities become difficult or impossible for an asthma patient. Asthma can be life-threatening if proper treatment is delayed.
Due to factors such as increasing pollution, respiratory diseases such as asthma are becoming alarmingly prevalent. The World Health Organization estimates that India has approximately 20 million asthma patients. Asthma also strikes children usually aged between 5 to 11.
During respiration, the air that we breathe in goes through the nose, throat and into the lungs. Asthma occurs when the airways to the lungs enlarge and tighten the surrounding muscles. This causes mucus to block the airways which further blocks the supply of oxygen to the lungs. The result is the asthma attack of coughing, etc.
- Coughing – especially at night, when laughing or exertions such as exercising
- Wheezing – a whistling sound when breathing
- Shortness of breath and a feeling of tightness in the chest
- Fatigue – a feeling of tiredness
Different types of asthma have different symptoms. Persistent signs of the above symptoms indicate that a visit to the doctor is necessary – sooner the better.
Types of asthma:
Bronchial asthma is a more common type of asthma. It affects the bronchi (main air passages) in the lungs. Other types of asthma include childhood asthma, adult-onset asthma, allergic asthma, nocturnal asthma, etc.
Causes of asthma:
As yet medical science has not narrowed down any single cause for asthma. Studies point to some leading suspects:
- Genetics – a parent with asthma increases the chances of the child getting it too.
- Viral infections: those prone to viral infections during childhood have more risk of getting asthma.
- Hygiene hypothesis – babies not exposed sufficiently to good bacteria have weaker immune systems and become more vulnerable to asthma in the later years.
- Allergen exposure: regular contact with allergens, irritants increases the chances of asthma.
Specific conditions and environments can trigger or worsen the symptoms of asthma:
- Respiratory illnesses such as the flu and pneumonia.
- Increased activity may make respiration more difficult.
- Asthma patients are sensitive to chemical fumes, strong odours, smoke, and similar irritants.
- Extreme weather conditions such as high humidity or freezing weather.
- Loud laughing, shouting and any emotional outbreaks that increase the rate of breathing.
No single test or exam can detect asthma. A variety of criteria determines if asthma is the cause of respiratory problems:
Family medical history – family members with a breathing disorder increase the possibilities of another family member having asthma.
Physical examination – the doctor uses a stethoscope to examine breathing, conducts skin tests for allergic reactions such as hives or eczema. Allergies increase the risk of asthma.
Breathing tests: Pulmonary function tests such as spirometry is done to measure the airflow in and out of the lungs.
Treatment for various types of asthma involves breathing exercises, rescue or first aid treatments and asthma control medications for the long-term treatment. The doctor decides on the appropriate treatment after taking into consideration the type of asthma, the patient’s age, medical history, etc.
Breathing exercises increase the airflow in and out of the lungs – thereby neutralizing problems of asthma.
Rescue or first aid treatments are the instant relief-providing medications used during an asthma attack. Options include rescue inhalers and nebulizers, bronchodilators (to relax tightened lung muscles), anti-inflammatory medications.
If asthmatic symptoms continue for more than 20 minutes even after using the above treatment then immediately seek medical help.
Long-term asthma control medications are daily dosage that needs to be taken for years, to keep asthma under check.
- Keep away from chemicals and products that have earlier caused breathing problems.
- Keep away from allergens such as dust or mould.
- Take allergy shots that protect the body against asthmatic triggers.
- Take preventive medication, as the doctor prescribes.