Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways to the lungs in which the airways narrow and swell and may produce extra mucus. This can make breathing difficult, cause tightness in the chest, and trigger coughing, a whistling sound (wheezing) when you breathe. It can make some physical activities challenging or even impossible. Asthma can’t be cured but it can be managed and is caused by a variety of factors.
Causes and factors that increase your chances of developing asthma
Genetics: Asthma tends to run in families
Allergies: Certain allergic conditions are linked to people who get asthma. Conditions like eczema, food allergy, and hay fever.
Respiratory infections: Respiratory infections in childhood can compromise the lungs impacting their function long-term
Environment: Contact with allergens and irritants in childhood when the immune system isn’t fully mature increases the likelihood of developing asthma. Exposure to certain chemicals and dust in the workplace also contributes to adult-onset asthma.
Race or ethnicity: Black people and Puerto Ricans are at a higher risk of getting asthma than other races.
Sex: In children, asthma is more common in boys. In teens and adults, asthma is more common in women.
Being born prematurely (before 37 weeks) or with a low birth weight
Exposure to tobacco as a child.
Mother smoking during pregnancy.
There are two broad triggers of asthma
Allergic asthma is caused by allergens such as
- dust mites
- pollen from grass, trees, and weeds
- waste from pests such as cockroaches and mice
Non-allergic asthma is caused by triggers that are not allergens such as:
- breathing in cold hair
- certain medicines
- household chemicals
- infections such as colds and flu
- outdoor air pollution and
- tobacco smoke
Signs and Symptoms
Asthma symptoms vary from person to person as does the severity of the condition with some people only occasionally experiencing the symptoms and others dealing with them all the time.
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness or pain
- Wheezing when exhaling
- Trouble sleeping caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
- Coughing or wheezing attacks that are worsened by a respiratory virus such as the cold or flu
- Difficulty talking
- Anxiety or panic
Classifications of asthma
Intermittent: This is the most common type of asthma. Doesn’t interfere with daily activities. Symptoms are mild lasting fewer than two days per week or two nights per month.
Mild persistent: The symptoms occur more than twice per week but not daily and up to four nights per month.
Moderate persistent: The symptoms occur daily and at least one night every week but not nightly. They may limit some daily activities.
Severe persistent: The symptoms occur several times every day and most nights. Daily activities are extremely limited.
Treatment and Management of asthma
A doctor will work closely with the afflicted person to create a personalized management plan because there is no existing cure for asthma. The plan should include:
Breathing exercises: These exercises are designed to help you get more air into the lungs, over time increasing the lung capacity and cutting down on severe asthma symptoms.
Strategies to avoid triggers: For example, if tobacco is a trigger for you, you should not smoke, you should stay away from people who do so, and should not allow them to do it in your personal space such as your home or car.
Short-term relief medicines: These medications prevent symptoms or relieve symptoms during an asthma attack. They include an inhaler to be carried at all times. It may also include other medicines that work quickly to open up the airways.
Control medicines: This is medication taken daily to prevent symptoms. They work by reducing airway inflammation and preventing the narrowing of the airways.
The symptoms and triggers are not enough for a self-diagnosis and one should visit a doctor to get an official diagnosis.