Asthma – Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

What is Asthma

Asthma is quite a common problem affecting a large number of people in our country – age being no bar.

Asthma is a chronic, inflammatory disorder of the respiratory air-passage. Although symptoms do not exist all the time; but during an asthma attack, normal air passage through the blocked and narrow airways becomes difficult, resulting in breathing problems, panting, coughing, or other associated symptoms.
What happens during an asthma attack?

The inside wall of the airways become narrow and inflamed. They bloat up and get filled with fluid and mucus cells. Obstruction is further caused by tightening of muscles that surround the airways. This situation is called bronchospasm. In some people with asthma, the mucus glands in the airways produce thick mucus in large quantities, further obstructing the airways.

Chronic inflammation is considered to be the major cause of an asthma attack. The inflammation may last for weeks following an attack. Most people with asthma have some degree of inflammation all the time.

When inflammation occurs in the airways, they become sensitive. When the airways are more sensitive, a person is more probable get an asthma attack when exposed to things that trigger asthma.
What are the warning signs and symptoms of asthma?

Early warning signs are usually experienced before the outbreak of an asthma attack, and by recognizing these signs, early treatment can be started. These signs are unique to each person. Some early warning signs may be noticed only by the individual, while some may be noticed by other persons.
Some common warning signs include:

* Coughing – this often becomes worse at night or early in the morning.
* Wheezing – breathing with a squeaky sound and with great difficulty.
* Shortness of breath – due to insufficient supply of air
* Fast and/or noisy breathing along with panting.

Common symptoms of asthma include:

* Sneezing
* Mood swings
* Headache
* Stuffy and blocked nose
* Coughing
* Chin/ throat sensitivity and itching
* Feeling of tiredness
* Trouble in sleeping

Symptoms vary from one person to another, and they also differ in severity from person to person. Sometimes symptoms can be so serious that they become life threatening.
What are the causes of asthma?

Although the actual cause of asthma is not known, studies have shown that several factors can lead to the outbreak of asthma. These factors include hereditary, development and growth of a person’s lungs and immune system, infections, allergies and his response to the environment.

It is difficult to conclude as to what causes asthma. We can generally say that a person is prone to asthma if-

* there is a family history of asthma, eczema or any type of allergy.
* many aspects of modern lifestyles – such as changes diet, surrounding environment, pets staying in the same house.
* smoking during pregnancy significantly increases the risk of the child developing asthma
* children whose parents smoke are more likely to develop asthma in the long run
* environmental pollution can make asthma symptoms worse
* asthma may also develop after a viral infection or any other type of infection.
* irritants or triggers found at home or workplace may lead to a person developing asthma .

Is asthma a genetic disease?

Although not necessarily genetic, but in most cases it is widely accepted that asthma is a disease that can be inherited if there is a family history.
What activates an asthma attack?

Asthma can be triggered by anything and everything. It is usually flared by allergens such as cold air, exercise, and other factors.
Possible asthma triggers include:

* Pollen, dust, smoke, and other allergens
* Strenuous exercise or any other physical activity.
* Smoke from burning wood or tobacco
* Viral infections, cold, flu, bronchitis, pneumonia
* Strong odours, perfumes, deodorants, cleaning sprays, and chemical fumes
* If you are suffering from sinusitis, hay fever
* Laughing or crying loudly causing strain
* Sudden changes in weather, especially cold air, moisture and rain
* Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
* Food preservatives containing sulphur, such as those used in canned foods, dried fruit, beer, and wine.

Can these triggers be avoided?

Asthma is not a curable disease, but can be prevented by controlling triggers. A little bit of alertness on part of the patient can lower his chances of having an asthma attack.

To prevent asthma symptoms:

* Learn about your type of asthma and how to control it – especially what triggers it. Avoid them.
* Use medicines as directed by the doctor to prevent or control attacks.
* Avoid all foods/things that make your asthma worse.
* Get regular checkups from your doctor.

Who is at risk?

* Asthma is closely linked to persons suffering from some type of allergies. Most, but not all, people with asthma have allergies. Children with a family history of allergy and asthma are more likely to have asthma at some stage or the other.
* Although asthma affects people of all ages, it most often starts in childhood. Young boys are more prone to get asthma than girls; but in adults more women have asthma than men
* Some women with asthma have increased symptoms at a particular time during their menstrual cycle, such as pre-menstruation, or during pregnancy.
* Emotions, although do not cause asthma, but can make asthma worse. Strong feelings can lead to changes in breathing patterns.
* Babies exposed to tobacco smoke are more likely to get asthma. If a woman is exposed to tobacco smoke during pregnancy, her baby is more likely to get asthma.
* Obese people are very much prone to developing asthma, as well as other health problems.