What is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic illness which causes inflammation in the airways, inducing them to narrow and restrict breathing. Some cells might start to produce more mucus which also clogs up the respiratory tract, making it even harder to breathe.
Asthma is a common illness worldwide. It is estimated that more than 25 million of the US population have asthma, of which seven million are children. (2)
Symptoms of asthma can vary from person to person. There is no cure for the condition but the symptoms can be controlled by avoiding possible “trigger” allergens and taking appropriate medication.
Asthmatics can have periods without any flare ups or symptoms and will feel absolutely fine. However, it’s very important when symptoms do present they receive treatment as fast as possible. Failing to do so will lead to what is known as an “asthma attack”.
Attacks are where symptoms suddenly worsen and can become more intense, some people might even experience new symptoms. These episodes should be treated immediately and in some cases can be a medical emergency. (3)
Asthma symptoms can have different triggers dependent on the individual. Some may be triggered by cigarette smoke, others from dust. Although experiencing these symptoms does not necessary mean that you have asthma. (4)
Symptoms of asthma include:
When something is irritating the throat, coughing is a natural response from the body to try and eject the offender.
A cough can also be caused by a virus or bacteria, and is generally seen in the common cold when the throat becomes inflamed.
However coughing is also a sign of asthma. A telltale sign is a cough that worsens during the night and early morning, disrupting sleep. It can also cause a wheezing sound. (5)
Wheezing can best be described as a whistling sound occurring while breathing. You may feel that something is in your throat and have the constant urge to try and clear it. It’s a typical clue of a problem in the air tubes inside the lungs. (6)
It can be caused by infections in the lungs or damage, swelling or a mucus buildup in the airways.
Where asthma is concerned, inhaling allergens or irritant causes the airways to tighten up, creating a wheezing sound when you breathe. (7)
Tightness in the chest is another symptom of asthma.
Most people describe it as feeling like something is applying pressure to the chest or that the upper torso region is being squeezed tight. This type of symptom often goes hand in hand with an increase in wheezing, coughing or breathing difficulties. (8)
Shortness of Breath
It’s not uncommon for people with asthma to struggle to catch their breath at times. This can easily exacerbate when performing physical activity, yet it can also occur when resting too.
It can be quite a frightening experience for most people who are not prepared for it. The instant reaction is to breathe faster to try and get air into the lungs. However, this can lead to hyperventilation and anxiety.
Asthma has grown to be one of the leading chronic illnesses in the world. Therefore in order to find the best course of treatment asthma has been divided into four stages, or classifications of progression. (11)
They can be described as follows:
The first stage is intermittent asthma. (12)
Asthma in this stage only causes symptoms once or twice per week, with little to no flare ups. Night time symptoms are almost non-existent occurring less than a couple of times per month.
At this point the FEV1 (forced expiratory volume) will be rated above 80 percent. This is a measure used to test the functional status of the lungs.
The second stage is called mild persistent asthma. Symptoms can occur more than once a week, but still not on a regular basis.
However, night time symptoms are becoming more frequent, with episodes taking place a minimum of twice per month. This means the condition is now starting to interfere with daily life and sleep routines. (13)
The FEV1 measurement will still be deemed above 80 percent.
This stage is moderate persistent.
During this stage the symptoms will become more aggressive. The signs will materialize everyday and preventative medication will be required to alleviate and control the condition. (14)
Night time issues will happen more often, at least once per week.
By now daily activities can easily trigger asthma attacks and sleep is also disrupted, which will most likely interfere with daily life.
FEV1 readings will now be at a functional capacity of between 60 to 80 percent.
This stage is classed as severe persistent asthma. In this stage symptoms will happen everyday and often more than once. (15)
Sleep patterns will also be completely disrupted due to nocturnal occurrences appearing frequently at night.
This phase will lead to an impairment upon day to day activities, in particular anything deemed physical.
FEV1 will now be displaying below 60 percent lung function.
Unfortunately there is no complete cure for asthma, therefore if you have the condition it’s with you for life. However, treatments have been developed to alleviate symptoms and reduce the burden on your life. (16)
The right treatment can help manage the illness: reducing severity of symptoms, minimizing the need for relief medication and maintaining good lung function.
Treatments will also help you maintain daily activities, allow you sleep better and even reducing the likelihood of asthma attacks.
Asthmatics are encouraged to take an active role in the control of your asthma, like working with your doctor to treat other conditions. Avoiding triggers except for physical activity, and create an asthma action plan. (17)
Asthma Action Plan
This plan helps you take care of yourself, yet it will also help those around you in times when assistance is needed. (18)
It revolves around your prescribed medication and when you should take them. It also includes which triggers to avoid and knowing when to seek medical care.
If your child has asthma, the plan should be made readily accessible to any schools or daycare establishments they attend. (19)
Long Term Control Medication
Many people with asthma must take control medication on a long term basis. Corticosteroids, when administered daily they work to reduce airway inflammation, thereby decreasing the chances of asthma attacks. (20)
This kind of medication can be taken both in pill form or with the help of an inhaler. However, inhalers encourage the medicine to go directly to the place of need – the lungs and airways.
Quick Relief Medication
This type of medication is also typically given through an inhaler.
Every person with asthma must carry their quick relief treatments (beta2-agonists) with them at all times, this ensures when symptoms start to intensify they can be stopped before progressing too far. (21)
Along with these treatments it’s important to keep tabs on your asthma, such as noting potential triggers, onsets of episodes and making sure you have regular check ups with your doctor. (22)
Peak Flow Meter
This is a test which will see how well your lungs work, by measuring how fast you breathe out. (23)
During the test you will be asked to take a deep breath, and then breathe out as fast as you can into a small plastic tube.
It’s recommended to do this test at least twice a day to ensure your lungs are working as they should, this will help you take action if the asthma should flare up.
What is asthma? Asthma is a chronic illness affecting the airways, it causes inflammation which results in breathing difficulties.
What are the signs of asthma? Signs of asthma can include coughing and wheezing tightness in the chest and shortness of breath.
How do you develop asthma? Exact causes of asthma are unknown, although there are clear links it can be passed down from parent to child. Hygiene hypothesis is another theory. It’s simply explained by the fact that children today have limited exposure to the environment and infections, thereby weakening early development of the immune system and increasing the chances of asthma. (24)
How are you diagnosed for asthma? Your doctor will start out by asking about medical history of you and your family. Next will be a physical exam where your doctor will listen to your breathing and look for signs of asthma. This is followed by diagnostic tests such as a lung function test, allergy testing, a sensitivity test of your airways or chest x-rays. (25)
What is the best treatment for asthma? The best treatment is long term control medicines administered through an inhaler.
What are the long term complications of asthma? Long term complications can include side effects from the use of medication. Your body can also build up a resistance which could make them less effective. If you contract any kind of respiratory infection, like a common cold or influenza it could mean your recovery time takes longer too. (26)
Is asthma considered a disability? No asthma is not considered a disability. However if you have severe asthma it can be disabling for daily activities.
Is there a cure for asthma? No, asthma can only be controlled. However some asthmatics can have periods where no symptoms present as well as no flare ups. This is achieved with the right treatment.
Is asthma life threatening? Yes it can be. In the case of a severe asthma attack the airways can narrow down to a point where air can not get through, if this isn’t treated immediately it can be fatal.
Asthma causes inflammation of the airways, leading them to constrict and causing difficulties for the person to breathe normally.
This is a very common yet life changing illness to have. It requires constant care and awareness of certain situations which can trigger symptoms.
However it is possible to control the condition with the right treatment. In fact many people manage to live normal lives without severe complications.