Asthma is a very common problem that can be faced by people of all age group. It is a long term inflammatory disease of airways of the lungs. It is mostly characterized by recurring and variable symptoms. The episodes may occur a few times per week to few times a day. The condition may become worse at night or with exercise. It may be caused due to environmental or genetic factors.
Environmental factors may include allergies and exposure to air pollutants. Other triggers may include medications such as beta blockers and aspirin. There is no cure for asthma. However, asthma symptoms can be prevented by avoiding triggers such as irritants and allergies and by the use of inhaled corticosteroids and other medicines.
Causes of Asthma
Asthma triggers are different for different person. Though the causes of asthma are not very certain a combination of genetic and environmental factor may cause the trigger. Some of the main causes of asthma include:
- Airborne substances, such as dust mites, pollen, pet dander, mold spores, or particles of cockroach waste. This results in allergic asthma.
- Physical activity
- Cold air
- Respiratory infections, such as common cold
- Air pollutants and irritants, such as smoke
- Strong emotions and stress
- Certain medications, such as aspirin, beta blockers, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, IB and so on) and naproxen (Aleve)
- Preservatives and Sulfites added to some types of foods and beverages including dried fruit, shrimp, processed potatoes, wine and beer
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease, a condition in which stomach acids back up into your throat
Signs and Symptoms
The main characteristics of asthma include inflammation of bronchial tubes with increased production of sticky secretions inside the tubes. Those suffering from asthma experience symptoms when the airways inflame, tighten or fill with mucus. Some of the common symptoms of asthma include:
- Coughing specially at night
- Chest tightness, pressure or pain
- Shortness of breath
Not every person suffering from asthma has the same symptoms in the same way. You may have different symptoms at different times. It may be a mild attack during one and a severe attack during other.
Mild asthma is more common than severe ones. In case of mild attacks the airways open up quite fast. However, severe attacks last longer and may require immediate medical help.
There are many factors that may cause asthma. However, taking certain preventive measure will help in preventing frequent attacks. Some tips to prevent asthma are:
- Use allergy-proof covers on mattresses and pillows
- Do not allow pets on furniture’s or bedrooms
- Remove soft toys and carpets from bedrooms
- Fix leaky faucets
- Avoid the areas where people smoke
- Avoid harsh cleaning chemicals and products
- Reduce stress and stay away from stressful circumstances
- Always pay attention to air quality
- Take control of seasonal allergies
- Make sure those who are around you always knows that you suffer from asthma
- Keep asthma medications handy
- Reduce exposure to pests
- Reduce exposure to mold
- Avoid highly scented products that may irritate your lungs
Myths and facts:
Myths: Asthma is all in your head.
Fact: The disease is not psychological and affects the airways.
Myth: If proper diet is taken it can ease asthma symptoms.
Fact: It has not been proved that specific nutrients can help in the asthma treatment.
Myth: After some time asthma medications stops working.
Fact: If asthma medications are used regularly and as per doctor's instruction it will remain effective for long period of time.
Myth: People suffering from asthma should not do physical activity.
Fact: Asthma patients should lead a healthy and normal life which includes regular exercise.
Myth: You can outgrow asthma.
Fact: Asthma is a lifelong condition. However it may improve with age with proper care.
Diagnosis of disease
There are some tests that will be conducted by your doctor and will be used in diagnosing asthma. Blood tests will give a picture of your overall health. Lung function test and other asthma tests will also be conducted.
- Lung function tests are done so as to access lung function. The two common lung function tests that are used to diagnose asthma are methacholine and spirometry challenge tests.
- Spirometry is a breathing test that is conducted to measure how much and how fast you can blow air out of your lungs. It is mostly used to determine the amount of airway obstruction.
If the Spirometry test does not provide satisfactory results than the methacholine test is done to establish a diagnosis of asthma.
- Chest X-Ray: Chest x ray is done so as to understand if there are other reasons that are causing your asthma symptoms. Chest X-ray can be used to view your lungs and see if something is wrong internally.
- Evaluation for heartburn and Gastroesophageal reflux disease: GERD is another condition that may worsen asthma. Your doctor may recommend specific tests for you if he suspects that you are suffering from this problem
- Allergy tests: Allergy tests may be conducted so as to find out if you are suffering from allergies that trigger asthma symptoms.
- Evaluation of the sinuses: The presence of sinusitis or nasal polyps may make asthma harder to treat or control. Doctors may ask the patient to go for a CT scan to evaluate sinuses if he suspects that there is an infection. If acute sinusitis is diagnosed, antibiotics will be used to treat it. Treating sinusitis may help in preventing asthma symptoms.
Treatment for Asthma
The goal of asthma treatment is to control the disease. There are long term control medicines as well as quick relief medicines for treating asthma is available in the market:
- Most of the people suffering from asthma need quick-relief medicines so as to get relief from asthma symptoms that may flare up. The medicines act quickly so as to relax tight muscles around your airways and open airways so that air can flow through them. It should be taken as soon as you first notice asthma symptoms. It needs to be carried with you all the time for quick relief in case of asthma attacks.
- Long term control medicines may also need to be taken by people who have asthma so as to prevent symptoms. Inhaled corticosteroids are considered as one of the best medicines for long-term control of asthma. They are effective for long term relief from swelling and inflammation that makes your airways quite sensitive to certain inhaled substances. However, it is best to consult your doctor before taking such medicines.
- Sometimes injections as well as nebulizers are also used to treat asthma. The medicines prescribed by your doctor needs to be taken in the manner prescribed. The treatment that is used for asthma in children, older adults and pregnant women may vary and doctor should be consulted before using any medicine. It is important to track your asthma. It is best to keep records of symptoms, check peak flow number using a peak flow meter, and provide the record to your doctor when going for regular checkups.
Steps to improve the health
Since asthma does not have any cure it is essential to keep asthma in check. There are certain steps that can be followed to improve health when suffering from asthma:
- Avoid asthma triggers
- Stop smoking
- Exercise regularly
- Be in control of your condition and discuss in detail with your doctor what needs to be done and what needs to be avoided
- Take care in cold weather
- Eat healthy
Important things to know
It is essential to consult your doctor at regular intervals to understand your progress and follow his instructions properly. It is also essential to carry asthma medicines including asthma inhalers with you at all times and get medical help as soon as you can in case of asthma attacks.