Asthma is an inflammatory condition of the bronchi, which are the airways of our lungs. When a person has an asthma attack, the muscles around their airways tighten and the lining of the air passages swells. This is often accompanied by increased mucus production which clogs the airways. These three things combined reduce the amount of air that can pass through the bronchi, causing shortness of breath and other associated symptoms.
Bronchial asthma is an alternate name for asthma, used to distinguish it from cardiac asthma - asthma-like symptoms brought on by heart conditions.
Allergies and asthma often go hand in hand. In some people, allergens such as pollen or dust can trigger asthma. People with atopic diseases such as those suffering from frequent eczema or hay fever are most likely to develop asthma. This is often called allergic asthma.
For some people, asthma is minor and is restricted to periodic shortness of breath. But for some, it can be severe and life-threatening, as it can prevent oxygen from reaching the lungs. Here are the common signs and symptoms of bronchial asthma:
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing, especially at night
- Pressure, pain, or tightening of chest
- Trouble sleeping
More than 20 million people suffer from asthma in the US, and the symptoms can appear suddenly. It is thought that a combination of genetic and environmental factors predisposes an individual to asthma. People are at the risk of asthma if -
- Someone in their family suffers from asthma
- They have an allergic condition
- They smoke or are exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke
- They are exposed to pollutants, exhaust smoke, or smog
- They are exposed to chemicals like fertilizers or strong household cleaners
- They are obese
- They had a low birth weight or were born prematurely
Cold weather and high humidity are also thought to play a role in increasing the chances of a person developing asthma.
Types and Triggers
Bronchoconstriction may be triggered by a number of external or internal factors, and listed below are some of the common triggers according to the type of asthma -
Allergic - This is the most prevalent type of asthma and the most common triggers are allergens such as -
- Animal proteins (you may be exposed to them through the hair or skin cells of animals)
- Dust Mites and Cockroaches
- Some perfumes, sprays, or cosmetics
- Air pollutants
Cough-variant - In people suffering from CVA, dry cough i.e. cough without sputum or phlegm, is the primary symptom, rarely accompanied by other asthma symptoms. Cough-variant asthma can develop into classic asthma with the typical symptoms.
Occupational - Prolonged exposure to certain substances might cause a person to develop asthma, and when this exposure occurs in a certain work environment, it is termed as occupational asthma. Some of the triggers that a person might be exposed to in their work environment include -
- Hydrochloric acid
- Sulfur dioxide
- Certain plastics and resins
- Powder from latex gloves
- Paint hardeners
- Animal proteins
- Painkillers or NSAIDS like Ibuprofen, Aspirin or Naproxen
- Ace inhibitors
- Air conditioning
- Increased mucus production at night
- Foods containing sulfites such as fish, eggs, nuts, wheat, soy, etc.
- Smoke or chemical fumes
- Pollution, smog or dust
- Strong emotions
Asthma varies greatly from person to person, in its symptoms, triggers, and severity. Hence, you will have to work with your physician to identify the best treatment plan for you. However, there are some things that can prevent an asthma attack such as -
- Identify your triggers and avoid them.
- Read and understand as much about asthma as you can, including the medications and emergency treatment.
- Use the peak-flow meter regularly to determine how freely air is moving through your body and whether the medication is working well.
- Follow your physician's advice.
- Report any changes in your symptoms promptly.
- If you have side effects from the prescribed drugs, report them immediately.
- If you are on medication, take a dose of your short-acting relievers, before starting a demanding physical activity.
Asthma, like allergy, is a chronic condition and the treatment centers at minimizing the symptoms. Medications used for treating asthma fall under two categories -
Controllers - Anti-inflammatory medicines such as inhaled corticosteroids fall under this category. These work by reducing the sensitivity of your airways. These need to be taken daily, even if the symptoms have disappeared, as the inflammation might reappear otherwise.
Relievers - These medications are used to alleviate or relieve the symptoms of an asthma attack. Bronchodilators fall in this category and act by relaxing the muscles of airways and help improve breathing.
These two types of medications are often used in conjunction and are administered through inhalers or nebulizers that deliver the medication fast and efficiently to the lungs. Asthma medications may have side effects, so your physician will start with the lowest possible dosage and increase it gradually or change the medication.
Asthma is one of the most common conditions in the US and its prevalence, especially in children, is increasing. Though chronic, it is manageable and one can lead a normal life by following the treatment plan carefully.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice.