Asthma is one of the most commonplace health conditions found in young people and adults. The prevalence of this illness in the world is fairly high.  In the United States alone, about 1 in 13 people have asthma. More than half of them suffer a breakdown during the course of their lives. The number of people with asthma continues to grow, which is the reason why it is hard to provide an exact estimate. Asthma is now a serious public health concern people are diagnosed with the disease to a great extent. The good news is that it can be recognized and managed with the right kind of treatment.


Asthma drawing


Asthma Overview & Facts

Asthma is an obstructive lung disease that causes the swelling and narrowing of the airways that transport the air from the nostrils and mouth to the lungs. Asthma is also referred to as reactive airway disease and bronchial asthma. The obstructive lung disease is prevailing in children, who develop this lung disease in early childhood, usually before the age of 7. The number of asthmatic children has grown notably since the 1960s.  It is one of the major sources of chronic illness among kids and it involves rigorous monitoring.

In order to under to understand asthma, it is necessary to comprehend the mechanisms of the airways. The bronchi are tubes that carry the air into and out of the lungs. When the air passages become inflamed, the air flow is obstructed and the bronchi are prone to over-reacting to all kinds of stimuli. What happens is that the airways react, causing the surrounding muscles to tighten. Breathing becomes therefore difficult.

There are two main types of asthma:

Extrinsic asthma

Extrinsic asthma (allergic asthma) is generally triggered by external irritants. People who suffer from allergic asthma are atopic, which means that they develop eczema and other hypersensitive reactions. People with an atopic asthmatic disease develop antibodies against average allergens present in the environment, such as dust mites, pollen, mold, etc.

Intrinsic asthma

Intrinsic asthma or, as people like to call it, late-onset asthma, does not have a known biological pathogen. In other words, it can be provoked by anything. Physicians believe that intrinsic asthma kicks off as the result of intense emotions, like crying. It can be equally caused by allergens like cigarette smoke or disinfectants. The medical condition is usually discovered with difficulty.


It is believed that asthma is developed only in childhood, but the matter of fact is that people of all ages can have asthma. The ascendancy of asthma in middle-aged as well as in seniors has managed to take specialists by surprise. They know very little about the phenomenon, not to mention that it is not easy for them to make the difference between asthma and other respiratory conditions. Women are more affected by this long-term disease. Those who have reason to believe they have asthma should refer to a GP as it is potentially fatal.

Asthma is a chronic illness, which means that it persists over a long period of time. It can impose a considerable burden on people, their families, as well as on the community. The burden of asthma can be reduced though with ongoing management. Patients who receive the right treatment and take it as prescribed are able to live a normal life.


Asthma Symptoms & Diagnosis

People who are asthmatic typically endure these symptoms:

  • Coughing
  • Bronchospasm (wheezing)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty sleeping, waking up at night

These symptoms can last from a few minutes to a couple of hours. It is important to mention that asthma symptoms are not characteristic of all people. Not every individual that has this disease  will have the same manifestations as another person. While some patients get all the symptoms mentioned earlier, others may only exhibit a few of them.

As a rule, asthma attacks do not happen without warning. Changes can take place prior or at the very beginning of the attack. What follows is a description of the main signs of asthma:

  • Nighttime coughing
  • Inability to hold one’s breath
  • Increased tiredness when exercising
  • Feeling lethargic, moody, or even upset
  • Having manifestations similar to those of the cold and flu, like coughing or wheezing

During an asthma attack, patients present with a range of symptoms, such as:

  • Strange sensation of having breathing difficulty. Exhaling and inhaling are accompanied by a high-pitched whistling sound.
  • Chest pain, which is mistakenly associated with a heart condition.
  • Feelings of panic and anxiety
  • Sweating of the scalp
  • Pallor
  • Bluish tint to the fingers and lips

There is no exact test for diagnosis. Due to the fact that asthma is a complex medical condition, it takes time in order to diagnose. To identify the problem, the general practitioner will:

  1. Take into consideration the patient’s medical and personal history

A doctor will make inquiries s as to understand the patient, their manifestations, and the causes for the disease. For example, a physician may ask if anyone in the family has had asthma or allergies.  Or the general practitioner may want to know what medicines the patient is currently on and what kind of lifestyle they lead. Question relating to health conditions are to be expected as well.  The doctor needs to differentiate asthma from similar respiratory diseases, like pneumonia or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

  1. Perform a clinical assessment

If a medical professional has reason to believe that a patient is suffering from asthma, then they will proceed to perform a clinical assessment. The physician examines first the years to see if they are filled with chronic fluid or there are signs of infection. Next, attention is given to the eyes. What the doctor is looking for is redness, inflammation, and discharge.

A general practitioner may or may not want to examine the inside or the outside of the nose. If mucus flows excessively through the nostrils or if there is nasal septum deviation, that can explain allergic reactions. Last but not last, a lung exam is performed. Breathing tests are ordered in order to confirm the illness. Should the breathing be better after using a bronchodilator, then the patient most likely has asthma.

  1. Testing for other conditions

As mentioned earlier, asthma can be confused with other respiratory illnesses. This is the reason why the physician is required to test for other conditions. The medical practitioner needs to have guarantee that it is not something else. Chest X-rays, acid reflux tests, sleep apnea tests are most commonly performed. Of course, other specialty tests are administered too.


Normal Lungs vs. Lungs with Asthma


Asthma Treatment & Care

The matter of fact is that there is no cure for asthma. The only thing that can be done is to manage the lung disease and, implicitly, its symptoms with the help of medications. The goal is to reduce the risk of inflammation of the bronchi and to prevent severe attacks. When it comes to medications, there are two main types:

  • Fast–acting medications. As the name suggests, fast-acting medications relieve symptoms as they manifest. They are available as dose inhalers. The therapies stop the manifestations of asthma by opening up the bronchi, that is, the airways.  Relief is almost instant, so the patient does not have difficulty breathing anymore. It is important to mention that fast-acting medicines do not help with swelling and inflammation.
  • Controller medications. Unlike fast-acting medications, that provide temporary results, controller medications provide long—term results, but they have to be taken a long period of time. Examples of treatments include corticosteroids, leukotriene modifiers, immunomodulators, and long-acting beta-agonists. Yet again, they have to be taken every day in order to provide good results.

The physician has to determine whether the medical strategy is effective for the patient. So, if the doctor is sure that the patient is ill, they will prescribe a trial of a treatment for the management of asthma. In simpler terms, the patient receives on or more medications to see which one best relieves the symptoms and if there are any potential side effects. This experimentation can last anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks. Depending on the response to the treatment, it can be continued or interrupted.

Self-care is an essential part of asthma treatment. It is important for people to learn how to prevent and manage the obstructive lung disease. What the patient has to do basically is use the drug therapy, as prescribed, and to avoid irritants. Simply put, it is necessary to avoid coming in contact with allergens. Staying away from animals or avoiding being in places where there is a lot of cigarette smoke is a good idea. Other things people can do is:

  • Have an active lifestyle
  • Boost the immune system
  • Maintain a normal level of humidity



What Causes Asthma Symptoms?

It is clear that many people have asthma, but it may not be so clear what triggers asthma symptoms. Foreign bodies are the ones that cause the inflammation and narrowing of the airways.  The most commonplace ones are:

  • Bed mites
  • Pollen
  • Rodents
  • Mold
  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Animal fur
  • Sulphites

More often than not, the lung disease is associated with irritants that are present in the home and work environment. This is the reason why it is difficult if not impossible to avoid exposure. The steps that individuals take are usually ineffective.

If the lung disease is not caused by environmental factors, then another explanation could be respiratory infections. The cold or the flu has an impact on the lungs, leading to unpleasant manifestations. Respiratory diseases like the ones mentioned earlier are caused by viruses, so preventing sickness is something that every asthmatic person should do. The immune system can be enhanced by with the right diet and lifestyle. One option that people have is to get immune booster injections.


Lungs with Asthma Representation


Asthma Frequently Goes Undiagnosed

Individuals suffer from asthma without even realizing it.  The reason why asthma is not always diagnosed is that the symptoms are common to other respiratory illnesses. As stated earlier, doctors perform batteries of tests in order to be sure that they are dealing with one illness or the other.  When people cough or have shortness of breath, they blame their problems on anything but asthma. Bronchitis is one example. people who have allergic reactions ought to seek professional advice. In other words, it is advisable for them to discuss their manifestations with a physician.

What can happen if the lung disease goes undiagnosed until a certain age is that it can become worse and so can the symptoms. The obvious risks are scarring and permanent damage. So, it can be concluded that asthma is serious. It is essential for an individual to confirm asthma and determine the severity of the obstructive lung disease. And, of course, to seek treatment.


An Asthma Attack can be Fatal

Many people are oblivious to the fact that an asthma attack can be fatal. There are more chances of dying from asthma than, say, getting hit by a car. Unfortunately, premature death can occur before a person reaches adolescence or elderly ages. The cause of death is represented by the shortage of oxygen. When the human body is deprived of oxygen, the cells begin to die. As surprising as it may seem, a great many people die from asthma every day. The only way to decrease the risk of having a fatal attack is to monitor symptoms as often as possible. Becoming self-aware is necessary in order to survive.

According to health statistics, advances in treatment have not been effective as effective as expected due to the fact that mortality rates have not decreased significantly. Even if it is not fatal, an asthma attack can still have serious consequences. More precisely, it can lead to disability. People with breathing difficulty are not able to work. Sometimes, they require hospitalization as well.  It can be said that asthma is an excess baggage. The lung disease makes it impossible for individuals to earn a living and, in general, to carry out any kind of activity. Medication, care, and monitoring prove to be of paramount importance in this case.

Last updated on March 2nd, 2018

Chris Riley

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