Asthma is a disease that causes the air pathways to narrow down and swell, as well as release excess mucus. This usually makes it difficult to breathe, resulting in coughing, whistling or wheezing sound on exhalation and shortness of breath.
Asthma is a mild annoyance for some people. However, it could be a big issue for others that prevent them from going on with their everyday lives. Besides, such chronic cases can even result in a fatal asthma attack. In general, asthma is a serious and ongoing illness. This means that it's one of the conditions that does not go away and requires continuing medical care.
Types of Asthma
Doctors normally classify asthma as either intermitted (which appears and disappears) or persistent (long-lasting). The type of asthma that persists may be moderate, mild, or extreme. On the other hand, doctors use the frequency at which you have attacks to determine the seriousness of your asthma. They also take into account the ability to perform tasks during the attack.
Overall, the types of asthma include;
At times, people develop an asthma attack as a result of allergies. The possible allergens (triggers) can include food, pollen, mold, pet dander, and dust. However, allergic asthma is usually seasonal since it’s related to seasonal allergies.
Some irritants in the atmosphere that are not associated with allergies cause non-allergic asthma. Examples of these irritants are cold air, cigarette smoke, air pollution, burning wood, perfumes, air fresheners, viral conditions, and cleaning products.
This type of asthma is caused by various triggers found in the workplace. Examples of the common triggers include dyes, dust, fumes, gases, rubber latex, and industrial chemicals. In most industries, the common irritants that exist are textiles, farming, and woodworking.
Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB):
Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) occurs after a few minutes of beginning your exercise routine and can last up to 10 to15 minutes afterwards. Exercise-induced asthma (EIA) was the initial name for this disease.
EIB affects up to 90% of people with asthma, although not every person with EIB necessarily has other forms of asthma.
Signs and Symptoms of Asthma
Asthma symptoms may differ from one person to another. You might experience occasional asthma attacks or experience symptoms at specific times of the day, like when working out. At times, you can have asthma symptoms at all times.
The following are some of the signs and symptoms of asthma;
- Breathing problems
- Tightness or pain in the chest
- Wheezing, a common symptom of asthma in children that occur when exhaling
- Difficulty sleeping due to shortness of breath, wheezing or coughing.
- Wheezing or coughing attacks aggravated by the respiratory virus, including the flu or a cold
The following are the indications that your asthma is likely to worsen:
- Signs and symptoms of asthma which are more common and bothersome
- Having more trouble breathing is determined by a system that measures how well the lungs are functioning.
- More frequent use of the quick-relief inhaler
Asthma symptoms and signs can flare up in people under the following situations:
- Occupational asthma is caused by irritants in the workplace, including dust, chemical fumes, or gases.
- Workout-induce asthma that can worsen if the air is dry and cold
- Allergy-induced asthma is caused by inhaling allergens like mold spores, pollen, cockroach feces, or skin particles and dried saliva shed from pets (pet dander)
Causes of Asthma
Medical professionals are baffled as to why other people develop asthma disease, and some do not. However, they believe that the following factors put you at greater risk;
Allergies: If you have allergies, then you are more likely to develop asthma.
Environmental factors: Inhaling substance that irritates the air path can cause asthma in infants. Allergens, secondhand smoke, and certain viral infections are examples of these chemicals. They can be harmful to infants as well as young children with immune systems that have not yet matured.
Respiratory infections: Some respiratory diseases, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), can affect a child's growing lungs.
Genetics: Individuals who have a family history of the condition are more likely to develop it.
There is no specific examination or test to identify if you or your child has asthma. However, your medical provider will opt for various criteria to find out whether the signs and symptoms are due to asthma.
These diagnostic procedures can help detect asthma;
- Physical examination
The physician can conduct a physical asthma test and examination to help rule out any problems, including respiratory infection and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In addition, the doctor will inquire about the signs and symptoms, as well as any other health concerns you may have.
- Medical history assessment
This is essential since having a close family member with a history of such disorder increases your chances of developing it. You should thus inform your provider if you have a genetic connection.
Lung function test: The doctor can conduct lung function examinations to determine how well your lungs are functioning. Examples of these tests are;
Spirometry: This diagnostic examination determines how small your bronchial tubes are. It is done by measuring the amount of air you can exhale following a deep inhalation and how quickly you can exhale.
Peak flow: The peak flow meter refers to a simple instrument that tests how difficult you can exhale. Peak flow readings that are lower than normal indicate that your lungs aren't functioning as well as they should and that asthma is worsening.
Other additional diagnostic tests to evaluate asthma include;
Imaging tests: An x-ray of the chest will reveal any structural defects or diseases, including infections that can trigger or exacerbate breathing issues.
Allergy testing: This is a procedure to determine whether or not an individual is allergic to allergens like pollen, pets, dust, or mold. The doctor can conduct this procedure through a blood test or a skin test. Your doctor can prescribe allergy shots after knowing the allergy triggers.
Sputum eosinophils: This procedure searches for specific white blood cells (eosinophils) in the combination of mucus (sputum) and saliva you cough up. When signs appear, eosinophils are present and can be seen when stained using a rose-colored dye.
Asthma treatment can be categorized into three main groups. They include quick-acting therapies, breathing exercises, and long-term asthma control drugs.
The asthma specialist can prescribe one or a combination of certain treatments depending on some factors. They include the patient’s age, the type of asthma, and the underlying causes or triggers.
Quick-relief asthma treatments:
Asthma doctors recommend these drugs only in the event of an asthma attack and aggravation of the symptoms. The aim of quick-relief asthma treatment involves providing rapid relief and enabling you to breathe.
Examples of quick-relief drugs are;
Bronchodilators: These drugs help in relaxing the tightened muscles in the airways in minutes. They can be used as a rescue, inhaler, or nebulizer.
Anticholinergic agents: Ipratropium (Atrovent HFA) and tiotropium (Spiriva, Spiriva Respimat), among other bronchodilators, work rapidly to open the airways, making breathing much easier. They are often used to treat emphysema or chronic bronchitis, but they can also help with asthma.
Oral and intravenous corticosteroids: Examples of such drugs are prednisone (Prednisone Intensol, Rayos) and methylprednisolone (Medrol, Depo-Medrol, Solu-Medrol). They help alleviate air path inflammation induced by serious asthma.
Long term asthma control drugs:
These are drugs taken on a daily basis to help minimize the number and intensity of asthma-associated symptoms. However, they do not treat the symptoms that occur during an attack.
Medications for long-term asthma management include;
Anti-inflammatories: These are medications that help reduce inflammation. Corticosteroids and certain anti-inflammatory drugs are taken using an inhaler. They help to minimize swelling and production of mucus in the airways, making breathing easier.
Long-acting bronchodilators: Doctors can only recommend these drugs in conjunction with anti-inflammatory asthma drugs.
Biologic therapy medications: People with serious asthma can benefit from these innovative injectable drugs.
Anticholinergics: These are drugs that help prevent the muscles from constricting within your airways. They are normally combined with anti-inflammatories and taken on a daily basis.
This form of treatment is reserved for chronic asthma that fails to respond to inhaled corticosteroids and long-term asthma drugs. They are not widely accessible, and it isn't appropriate for everybody.
The doctor uses an electrode to heat the inner part of the lungs' airways during bronchial thermoplasty. The smooth muscle in the airways reduces as a result of the heat. This minimizes the airways' tendency to constrict, making it easier to breathe and potentially limiting asthma attacks. The treatment is usually spread out over three outpatient appointments.
Asthma is a chronic disorder that affects a person’s air path. It’s usually characterized by coughing and wheezing, and this can make it difficult to breathe. The potential causes of asthma include allergen or irritant exposure, exercises, stress, and other environmental factors.
With asthma, most people can still lead happy lives. Some asthmatic professional athletes have even broken records in their sport. Therefore, if you have the condition, your doctor will assist you in determining the right asthma management strategy. Consult the asthma doctor near you for further advice on how to manage your symptoms.