Asthma is a pulmonary (of the lungs) condition in which your airways narrow and swell, resulting in production of extra mucus, making it very difficult to breathe. Asthma can start off as being just a minor problem in some people, while in others; it can result in life-threatening Asthma attacks.
Understanding Asthma helps in the know-how of the airway. The airways are tubes that transmit air in and out of the lungs. Individuals who have asthma have engorged airways. The inflammation causes the airways to swell and makes it very sensitive. The airways have a tendency to respond strongly to certain inhaled substances.
When the airways react, the muscles around them stiffen. This shrinks the airways, causing lesser inflow of air into the lungs. The inflammation also can aggravate, causing the airways to narrow further. Cells in the airways might create increased amount of mucus. Mucus is a sticky secretion that can additionally constrict the airway passage. The outcome of this chain reaction could be asthma and all the above mentioned symptoms can occur every time the airways are swollen.
The symptoms for Asthma vary from person to person. You can sometimes have persistent symptoms throughout or not have any symptoms at all. However, the most common signs include:
- Pain in the chest
- Sudden gasp of breath
- Difficulty sleeping
- A cough worsened by a respiratory virus such as a flu
These are the early signs of Asthma, but as the conditions worsen, the following symptoms begin to increase as well.
For many people, symptoms only occur in selective situations such as:
- While exercising
- When there are certain elements of allergens in the air
- Occupational Asthma which is triggered if you're working in a place where there are irritants such as chemical fumes, gases or dust
If you have any/some/all of the above symptoms, seek medical attention promptly.
Several factors can put you at risk of developing Asthma such as:
- Family history of Asthma
- Having other allergic conditions
- Exposure to second-hand smoke
- Being overweight
- Being a smoker
- Contact with work-related triggers, such as elements used in farming, hairdressing and manufacturing
- Exposure to exhaust fumes or other types of pollution
During a physical exam, your doctor will ask you questions based on signs and symptoms and rule out any other pulmonary disorders and about any other health problems that you may have. Following this, he/she may recommend these tests:
- Spirometry: to check the narrowing of your bronchial tubes
- Peak flow: to measure how hard you can exhale
Other tests may include:
- Imaging tests such as a Chest X-Ray and CT scan
- Methacholine challenge
- Nitric oxide test
- Allergy testing
- Sputum eosinophil count
- Testing for exercise and cold induced Asthma
Treatment for Asthma is given on a short term and a long terms basis.
Short term (quick relief) medication:
- Short acting beta agonists – quick relief bronchodilators
- Oral and intravenous corticosteroids
- Allergy shots (if it is an allergy induced attack)
- Omalizumab – a drug that acts by altering the immune system
Long term medication:
- Inhaling corticosteroids
- Leukotriene modifiers
- Long acting beta agonists
- Combination inhalers