Over 7 million children and 18 million adults suffered from asthma in the year 2010. The number of asthma patients increased by 15%, over a period of ten years. It is the number one reason of children missing school, accounting for almost 10 million missed days from school in a year. Boys are more likely to suffer from asthma compare to girls, in children. In adults it’s the opposite, where women are more likely to develop this disease than men. People with ages 18 to 24 are more at a risk of developing this disease.
Every year a cost of more than $50 billion is incurred on the healthcare services for treating this disease.
What Is Asthma?
Asthma is one of the world’s most common chronic diseases. The word asthma has been derived from Greek language, meaning panting or breathless. Asthma is a disease of the airways of the lungs. Due to the inflammation of the respiratory tract, the air ways temporarily become narrow as a result wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath occurs.
What happens during an asthma attack?
The air that we inhale reaches our lung through trachea or windpipe, this windpipe is divided into two tubes called bronchi, a single tube is called bronchus. The bronchi are further divided into several tiny tubes called bronchioles. Each bronchiole ends in an air sac also known as alveoli, here the exchange of gasses takes place i.e. oxygen from the fresh air is taken up and exchanged with the carbon dioxide from the blood. This is the process of normal respiration. There are 3 main features of asthma.
There are three features of asthma:
- Airway Obstruction
In normal respiration the muscles that surround the airways are relaxed, therefore enabling the air to move freely. During an asthma attack these muscles tighten and do not allow the air to pass freely. The air passing through the tightened track produce a whistling sound, also called wheezing. The person having such a condition feels short of breath.
Sometimes inflammation of the bronchi takes place causing them to swell, as a result of some allergen. The inflamed tissues of the bronchi produce excessive amount of mucus, as a result airways are blocked and irritation and coughing takes place.
- Airway Irritability
People having asthma have extremely sensitive airways and are more susceptible to asthma triggers such as animal dander, dust fumes and pollen.
What are asthma triggers?
There are a lot of factors that can trigger asthma. Following are their categories:
Airborne Irritants: Substances present in the air such as dust, mold, traffic and industrial fumes, animal danger, scented flowers, perfumed cosmetics, etc. can all act as allergens.
Respiratory Infections: Sometimes viral and bacterial infection in the respiratory tracts such as cold, flu, sinus infections and bronchitis can trigger asthma. In children it is one of the major triggering factors.
Foods: Allergy causing foods such as cow’s milk, soy, wheat, eggs, fish, shrimps, peanuts etc. can trigger asthmatic attack. Also there are some food preservatives that can cause asthmatic attack such as potassium bisulfate, sodium bisulfate, potassium metabisulfide, sodium sulfite and sodium metabisulfite.
Smoking: Smoking cigarette can cause severe irritation in the lungs as a result asthma attack is triggered. Smoking put you more at a risk of developing asthma. According to some recent statistics 20% of the asthma patients are reported smoking.
Heartburn: A condition of severe heartburn called gartoesophageal reflux disease can also trigger asthmatic attacks.
Drugs: There are certain drugs that can cause asthma attacks such as aspirin and anti-inflammatory drugs (non-steroidal).
Hormones: In women the rise in the levels of progesterone and decline in the levels of estrogen may result in asthmatic attacks. In men, low levels of testosterone can cause asthma to trigger.
Alcohol: The reason why alcohol can cause asthma attacks is because it causes acid reflux, also the presence of sulfites may also trigger asthma attacks in some people.
Other factors that contribute in triggering asthma are emotional stress, anxiety, physical exertion, humid weather, genetic tendency and history of allergies.
What are the asthma symptoms?
Here are some of the common symptoms of asthma:
- Chest tightness
- Bluish color of the lips and face
- Severe drowsiness or confusion
- Rapid pulse
- Severe anxiety due to shortness of breath
- Abnormal breathing pattern
- Chest pain
If you have the above mentioned symptoms it is better that you consult your doctor.
What is Status Asthmaticus?
Status asthmaticus is a condition where a severe asthma attack takes place, which can prove to be fatal. Sometimes even medicines are ineffective to control the symptoms of status asthmaticus. Its symptoms are:
- breathlessness even while lying down
- chest tightness
- bluish tint to lips
- Respiratory system failure signs
Types of Asthma
Allergic Asthma: It is the most common type of asthma. Hay fever or allergic rhinitis is one of the triggering factors of this type of asthma.
Exercise-Induced Asthma: It is a type of asthma which is triggered by vigorous physical exertion. It usually occurs 20 minutes after the exercise routine begins.
Cough-Variant Asthma: Heartburn, postnasal drip, sinusitis and chronic rhinitis are the common triggers of this type of asthma, as a result severe coughing takes place.
Occupational Asthma: As the name suggest this particular type of asthma is caused by the substances found in the environment of the workplace causing the airways to swell and become narrow and resulting in asthma attacks. The common triggers of this type of asthma are wood dust, animal dander, fungi, grain dust, or chemicals such as ammonia.
Nocturnal Asthma: Nocturnal asthma is also known as night time asthma because most of the times its symptoms occur at night, during sleep.
How can you prevent asthma attacks?
Following are the measures you can take to lessen asthma attacks:
- Avoid keeping furry or feathery pets in the house
- Try to stay indoors when pollen counts are high
- Change your bed covers and pillow covers regularly
- Replace carpeted floor with tile or hardwood floors
- Try to keep your environment clean and free of dust
- Quit smoking
- Take medications to maintain the airways
What should you do when you have an Asthma attack?
If you have an asthma attack:
- Take a puff from an inhaler and repeat it after 3 to 5 minutes it your condition doesn’t improve
- Open the windows of your room to let the fresh air in
- Wear loose clothes
- If condition does not get better, immediately call a doctor