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All about Asthma

What is Asthma?

Asthma is an inflammatory disease in which a person’s airways to the lungs become inflamed and narrowed. As a result, breathing and doing physical activities are challenging or sometimes impossible.

Asthma can lead to a life-threatening attack, but it can also be minor or sometimes make regular activities difficult. It can cause serious chest pain, difficulty breathing, cough, lung congestion with mucus and wheezing.

If we see what happens when we breathe, we can understand more about how asthma makes the lung struggle to get enough oxygen required for the body. So, whenever we breathe, the air makes its way to the airways and, eventually, into the lungs. But in asthma, due to the swelling of the airways and the tightening of the surrounding muscles, enough air cannot pass through. Which results in an ‘asthma attack’, that is coughing and tightness in the chest.

Types of Asthma?

Asthma can be classified into four categories:

  • Mild Intermittent- mild symptoms occur and can stay up to 2 days a week and two nights a month.
  • Mild Persistent- Symptoms occur more than two times a week, but not more than once in a single day
  • Moderate persistent- symptoms come once a day and more than one night a week
  • Severe persistent- symptoms mostly throughout the day and frequently at night

What are the symptoms of Asthma?

Asthma symptoms depend from person to person. For example, one may experience infrequent asthma attacks and have symptoms only while doing some physical activities — such as heavy work or exercising; on the other hand, some experience symptoms all the time.

Common symptoms and signs of asthma include:

  • Wheezing when exhaling, which is commonly observed in children
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Coughing or wheezing attacks, which can get worsened by respiratory viruses like the cold or the flu
  • Unable to sleep due to shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing

Signs of asthma flare-ups include:

  • Increased wheezing, difficulty breathing
  • Throat clearing
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Fatigue

Asthma signs and symptoms can flare up depending upon situations:

  • Exercise-induced asthma, which gets worsened when the air is cold and dry
  • Occupational asthma, triggered by chemical fumes, gases or dust that one can get exposed to due to work
  • Allergy-induced asthma is triggered by substances such as mould spores, pollen, or skin particles and dried saliva shed by pets, etc.

What are the causes of Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways and lungs, so knowing the exact cause of the disease would be difficult. But according to experts, asthma can be caused due to a combination of environmental and genetic factors.

Triggers can include:

  • For allergic asthma, the allergens, such as pollen, mould spores, dust mites, pet’s saliva or particles of cockroach waste, can work as a trigger
  • Respiratory infections due to the common cold
  • Physical activity
  • Cold air
  • Air pollutants and irritants, such as smoke
  • Certain medications
  • Stress or strong emotional shock
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition in which stomach acids back up into your throat
  • Sulphites and preservatives added to foods and beverages,

What are the risk factors of having Asthma?

Several factors are thought to increase your chances of developing asthma. They include:

  • Having asthma in heredity
  • Having other allergic conditions, such as atopic dermatitis or hay fever hay fever
  • Being obese
  • Smoking
  • Exposure to smoke due to work or other reasons
  • Exposure to pollution like exhaust fumes or other
  • Exposure to occupational triggers, such as chemicals used in farming, hairdressing and manufacturing

How can I know if I’m suffering from asthma?

  • If you experience symptoms, visit an expert. He will assess, according to your health condition-Physical exam
  • Lung function tests like spirometry and peak flow
  • Methacholine challenge. Methacholine is known as an asthma trigger. When inhaled, it narrowed the airways slightly. So, if your body reacts to methacholine, you will likely have asthma.
  • Imaging tests such as a chest X-ray
  • Allergy testing
  • Nitric oxide test, which measures the amount of the gas nitric oxide in one’s breath
  • Sputum eosinophils is a test that looks for certain white blood cells called eosinophils in the mixture of saliva and sputum (mucus) you discharge during coughing.
  • Provocative testing for exercise and cold-induced asthma, in which the doctor asks you to perform vigorous physical activity to measure your airway obstruction before and after that or take several breaths of cold air.

How to treat asthma?

Asthma is an inflammatory chronic lung problem. It cannot be treated on its own. It needs prescribed medication, including inhalers, according to your age, family medical history and types and frequency of occurrence of asthma symptoms

What are the complications of long-term asthma

Asthma is a serious chronic disease which needs proper medication and treatment. If not get treated and managed in time, the complications can be very serious, like:

  • Narrowing the bronchial tubes
  • Frequent asthma attacks
  • Unable to do heavy work
  • Unable to exercise
  • Lasting coughing spell
  • Constant lung infections
  • Unable to sleep at night due to breathing issue

Living with Asthma

By taking proper medications and inhalers, and staying under treatment people can live a normal life with asthma. Some of the ways of controlling Asthma include:

  • Having regular medical check-ups
  • Taking medications and inhalers on time
  • Getting a proper asthma action plan with the help of a healthcare provider
  • Avoiding asthma triggers
  • Avoid sulphite-contained foods- preserved food like pickles, shrimp, dried fruits etc.
  • Avoid catching cold or flu

Whom to consult?

Visit a pulmonologist if you are aware of your condition; otherwise, seek help from an allergist if you suffer from allergic asthma. For children, seek help from a paediatrician.

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