Definition & Overview

Asthma is a lung disease that is also called bronchial asthma. It is a condition where one experiences difficulty in breathing due to a number of reasons, but mainly because the air passages in the lungs that allow oxygen to the body are inflamed. Patients typically describe asthma attacks as like breathing through a narrow paper straw. This condition can occur in both children and adults, and there are as many causes as there are differing symptoms. A lot of “wonder treatments” have come out in recent years claiming to cure asthma, but despite this, it remains to be one of the primary causes of emergency room visits in the United States. Based on official figures, about 9.7% of American children and about 8.2% of American adults suffer from this condition. When left untreated, asthma can affect normal daily activities, and in severe cases, it could also be life threatening.

Cause of the condition

Common causes of asthma attacks include the following:

  • Infections such as colds, flu and sinusitis.
  • Irritants such as perfume, fabric conditioner, air sprays, and cleaning agents.
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Sudden changes in the weather
  • Medications such as aspirin
  • Strong emotions such as severe anxiety, anger, or even extreme happiness.
  • Physically exhausting activities including exercise

Key Symptoms

The way asthma happens to people may differ, but there are symptoms to watch out for, which include the following:

  • Pressure in the chest
  • Fatigue
  • Labored breathing
  • A wheezing or whistling sound while breathing
  • Loss or shortness of breath
  • Shallow, rapid breathing
  • Less energy during any activity
  • Frequent coughing spells when talking or laughing

People who have had asthma for quite a while observe that they sometimes have a strange tingling sensation on their chins before they have an attack. Others experience unexplained panic, as the body reacts to less oxygen intake. If you have asthma or if you are the primary caregiver of someone who has asthma, familiarizing yourself with key symptoms is crucial. Having a nebulizer or a pocket inhaler on hand in case of a sudden asthma attack is extremely helpful.

Who to See and Types of Treatment Available

When seeking diagnosis and treatment for asthma, patients are advised to consult a general physician (a family doctor or a pediatric specialist) who will typically conduct a lung function test, as well as physical exam to identify the causes of the symptoms being experienced. Medical history of the patient will also be assessed. If asthma is confirmed, the doctor will formulate a treatment plan based on the symptoms and the severity of the condition.

Asthma treatments are generally categorized into short-term or “rescue” treatments and long-term or “management” treatments. Below are the most common prescribed to patients:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs and steroids - inhaled steroids, which are the primary medications for asthma, help to subside the swelling of air passages. When these steroids are inhaled, the airways of the patient become less sensitive. The proper dosage though, especially for children, must be properly administered. These must only be used under a physician’s prescription.

  • Bronchodilators - a person with asthma has bronchial tubes that are inflamed. This medication relaxes the muscles in the bronchial area, letting the patients breathe better. There are short-acting bronchodilators used as “rescue treatment” and long acting ones for the management of the condition. Short-acting bronchodilators should not be used for more than twice a week. If used more frequently, the management medication must not be enough. When this happens, patients are highly advised to consult a general practitioner who can adjust the treatment plan.

  • Nebulizers – patients who have difficulty using inhalers can benefit from using nebulizers. These transform the liquid asthma medication into mist, which is easily inhaled and absorbed by the lungs. The only downside is that it takes a little longer to use a nebulizer than an inhaler. It is, however, highly recommended for children and infants.

  • Prednisone – patients with a severe case of asthma are prescribed with oral medication called prednisone. This is a synthetic corticosteroid drug designed to prevent the release of substances in the body that cause inflammation.
    References:

  • “Asthma: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Management and Treatment” - http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/asthma.aspx

  • “American Lung Association: Asthma” - http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/asthma/
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