Asthma: Causes, Symptoms and Management

Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease which affects the airways: small tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. It is characterized by three main events: inflammation or swelling of the airway; contraction of the muscles around the airway; and production of excessive mucus within the airway. All these lead to narrowing of the breathing (bronchial) tubes and obstruction to air flow.

Symptoms include: coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness

Asthma is a common condition that affects people of all ages, but it is most common in children. Asthmatic attacks are often triggered by allergens such as pollen, pet dander, dust, fumes, and tobacco smoke. It can also be triggered by cold air, strenuous exercise, emotional stress or respiratory tract infections (such as the flu).

The exact cause of asthma is unknown, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. People with a family history of asthma and other allergic conditions (like eczema) are more likely to develop asthma, and certain environmental factors, such as air pollution can also increase the risk.

Asthma is usually diagnosed when airway obstruction is reversed by the use of anti-inflammatory agents. Your doctor may also run a test called pulmonary function test, to check how much your airway can expand to allow air flow. Further tests may include chest xrays and blood tests to rule out other possible causes of obstruction apart from asthma.

Asthmatic attacks can vary from mild to severe. Severe asthma can:

Interrupt your daily activities such as sleep, school and work, with significant impact on your quality of life and disruption of the lives of your family

Be stressful and costly, due to repeated hospital visits

Lead to respiratory arrest and death

Therefore, asthma must be managed effectively, to reduce its impact on your life. Asthma is usually treated with a combination of medications and measures to avoid triggers.

Inhaled corticosteroids, which reduce inflammation in the airways, are often the first line of treatment.

Bronchodilators, which relax the muscles in the airways, may be used to relieve symptoms.

These drugs are delivered directly into the airway via inhalers or nebulisers. Your doctor might also prescribe some pills for short- to long-term treatment or intravenous injections for emergency situations. Other advanced classes of drugs are also available and can be added depending on the severity.

A device called Peak Expiratory Flow (PEF) meter can be used at home to monitor the severity of your condition and the effectiveness of your medications. Any reading between 50 -79% of your normal PEF should raise a red flag.

Avoiding triggers that can worsen asthma symptoms can help to manage the condition. If you’re an asthmatic patient, it is important for you to work closely with your healthcare provider to develop an “asthma action plan” that outlines the steps to take in case of an asthma attack.

In conclusion, asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that affects the airways and can cause symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. It is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors and is usually treated with a combination of medications and avoidance of triggering factors. By working closely with your doctor, the condition can be managed effectively.

© Doctor KT

*Part of the ideas in this article was sourced from Mayo Clinic website.

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