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Definition

Asthma is a condition that affects the airways (wind pipes). The symptoms occur when the airway gets narrowed from time to time due to various factors. Asthma can affect anyone. It most commonly starts in childhood. Asthma can run in families.

Symptoms

The symptoms can range from mild to severe. They commonly present with breathing difficulty and wheezing (a musical sound on the patient's chest heard with a stethoscope). They can also present with cough and chest tightness. Symptoms are often worse at night or early morning.

Causes

There are several factors that can trigger an asthma attack

  • Infections
  • House dust mite
  • Smoking and cigarette fumes: This is one of the main triggers. Even if parents smoke outside the house, smoke particles stick to the hair and clothes and it can worsen the symptoms
  • Other fumes and chemicals (eg: paint, solvent, pollution)
  • Emotion
  • Allergies to animals
  • Certain foods

Diagnosis

Asthma is a clinical diagnosis based on the history and examination. However in some situations, pulmonary function tests (PFT) or peak flow can aid the diagnosis. Please ask your doctor for details.

Treatments

For most people, symptoms can be prevented with the appropriate use of medicines. Inhalers are the best way to treat. A small quantity of the medicine is delivered to the airways and lungs directly. There are different types of inhalers.

Reliever inhaler: To ease the symptoms. It makes the airway open wider. They are called bronchodilators.

Preventer inhaler: This should be taken every day to prevent symptoms from developing. The medicine used in this kind of inhaler is a steroid.

Is asthma completely curable?

There is no once and for all cure. However more than half the children with asthma grow out of it by the time they are adults. Most of the asthma patients can be symptom free if they take their medicines regularly as advised by the doctors.

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