What is asthma?
Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways of the lungs. It makes it difficult to breathe and can make some physical activities difficult or impossible.
About 25 million Americans have asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is the most common chronic condition in American children: 1 in 12 children has asthma.
To understand asthma, it is important to understand a little bit about what happens when you breathe. Normally, with each breath you take, air travels through your nose or mouth, down your throat, and into your airways, and eventually into your lungs.
There are many small air passages in your lungs that help carry oxygen from the air to your blood.
Asthma symptoms appear when the lining of your airways becomes swollen and the muscles around them become stiff. The mucus then fills the airways, further reducing the amount of air that can pass through.
These conditions can then lead to an “attack” of asthma, which is a cough and tightness in the chest that is typical of asthma.
The most common symptom of asthma is wheezing. It is a screaming or whistling sound that occurs when you breathe.
Other asthma symptoms may include:
- Cough, especially at night, when laughing, or during exercise
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty speaking
- Anxiety or nervousness
- Chest pain
- Fast breathing
- Recurrent infections
- Difficulty sleeping
Your type of asthma can determine what symptoms you have.
Some people experience persistent symptoms throughout the day. Others may find that certain activities can make symptoms worse.
Not everyone with asthma will experience these specific symptoms. If you think the symptoms you are experiencing may be a sign of an asthma-like condition, see your doctor.
Also, keep in mind that even if your asthma is well managed, you may still experience occasional flare-ups. Accelerated treatment with an inhaler is often better, but in severe cases, medical help may be needed.
Symptoms of an asthma outbreak may include:
- Throat cleansing
- Difficulty sleeping
- Chest pain or tightness
- If your symptoms worsen or do not improve with the use of an inhaler, you should seek immediate medical attention.
You should also seek treatment if you have any emergency asthma symptoms, including:
- severe breathing difficulty
- gasping for air
- pale lips or fingernails
- difficulty walking or talking
- blue lips or fingernails
If you or someone around you has symptoms of an asthma emergency, call 911 or your local emergency number, or go to the nearest emergency department.
Causes and motivations
Although asthma is common, especially in children, many people do not have asthma until they are adults.
No single cause of asthma has been identified. Instead, researchers believe that this is due to a variety of factors. These factors include:
- Genetics If a parent or sibling has asthma, you are more likely to develop it.
- History of viral infections. People with a history of acute viral infections during childhood, such as respiratory
- syncytial virus infection (RSV), are more likely to develop this condition.
The hypothesis of hygiene. This theory suggests that when babies are not exposed to enough bacteria in their early months and years, their immune systems are not strong enough to fight asthma and other allergic conditions.
Many factors can also trigger asthma and worsen symptoms. The causes of asthma can vary and some people may be more sensitive to certain stimuli than others.
The most common triggers include:
- Health conditions, such as respiratory infections
- Environmentally disturbing
- Intense emotions
- Extreme weather conditions
- Some medications, including aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Diagnosis and types
There is no single test or test to determine if you or your child has asthma. Instead, your doctor will use different criteria to determine if the symptoms are the result of asthma.
The following trusted sources may help diagnose asthma:
- Health history If your family members have a respiratory illness, your risk is higher. Let your doctor know about this genetic link.
- Physical examination. Your doctor will listen to your breathing with a stethoscope. You may also be given a skin test to look for signs of an allergic reaction, such as hives or eczema. Allergies increase your risk of asthma.
- Breathing test Pulmonary function tests (PFTs) measure the flow of air in and out of your lungs. For the most common test, spirometry, you blow into a device that measures wind speed.
Doctors usually do not perform breathing tests in children under 5 years of age because it is difficult to read correctly.
Instead, they can prescribe asthma medication to your child and wait to see if the symptoms improve. If they do, your child may have asthma.
For adults, your doctor may prescribe a bronchodilator or other asthma medication if the test results indicate asthma. If the use of this medicine improves the symptoms, your doctor will continue to treat your condition as asthma.
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Your doctor will also need to determine if you have asthma. The most common type is allergic asthma, which is the trusted source of 60% of all asthma cases.
Additional types of asthma are related to a person’s life stage. Although asthma can appear at any age, pediatric asthma affects children in particular and asthma that begins in adults does not appear until adolescence.
Other specific types of asthma are described below.
Allergens trigger this common type of asthma. These may include:
- pet dander from animals like cats and dogs
Allergic asthma is often seasonal because it goes hand in hand with seasonal allergies.
Irritations in the air that are not related to allergies trigger this type of asthma. These annoying things may include:
- Burning wood
- Cigarette smoke
- Cool air
- Air pollution
- Viral diseases
- Air fresheners
- Household cleaning products
Occupational asthma is a type of asthma caused by workplace stimuli. These include:
- the color
- Gases and fumes
- Industrial Chemicals
- Animal protein
- Rubber latex
It can be present in a wide range of disturbing industries, including:
Exercise-Affected Bronco Construction (EIB)
Exercise-affected bronchoconstriction (EIB) usually affects people within a few minutes of starting exercise and 10 to 15 minutes after physical activity.
This condition was formerly called exercise-induced asthma (EIA).
Up to 90% of people with asthma also experience EIB, but not everyone with EIB has another type of asthma.
Aspirin-induced asthma (AIA), also known as aspirin-induced respiratory illness (AERD), is usually severe.
It starts with taking aspirin or another NSAID such as naproxen (Aleve) or ibuprofen (Advil).
Symptoms can start in minutes or hours. People with AIA also usually have nasal polyps.
About 9% of people with asthma have AIA. It usually develops suddenly in adults between the ages of 20 and 50.
In this type of asthma, the symptoms increase at night.
Stimulants that are thought to cause symptoms at night include:
- The feeling of burning in the chest and stomach
- Pet Dryness
- Dust particles
The body’s natural sleep cycle can also trigger nighttime asthma.
Cough Asthma (CVA)
Cough variable asthma (CVA) is not the classic symptom of wheezing and shortness of breath. It is characterized by a persistent, dry cough.
If left untreated, CVA can completely lead to asthma flares, including other common symptoms.
To help treat asthma, the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (NAEPP) trusts the source to classify the condition based on its severity before treatment.
Asthma classifications include:
- From time to time Most people have this type of asthma, which does not interfere with daily activities.
- Symptoms are mild, lasting less than 2 days a week or 2 nights a month.
Light permanent. Symptoms occur more than twice a week – but not daily – and up to 4 nights each month.
- Moderately stable. Symptoms occur daily and at least 1 night each week, but not at night. They may limit some daily activities.
- Extremely permanent. Symptoms occur several times each day and most nights. Daily activities are very limited.
Asthma treatments fall into four main categories:
- Emergency medicine
- Long-term control medications
- A combination of immediate relief and long-term control medications. The most recent asthma medical guidelines released by NAEPP in 2020 suggest this treatment. However, the treatment has not yet been approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA).
- Biology, usually given only by injection or infusion for severe forms of asthma.
Your doctor will prescribe a treatment or combination of treatments based on:
- You have asthma.
- your age
- Your motivations
Your treatment plan may include learning your stimuli, carefully monitoring your symptoms, and taking steps to avoid flare-ups.
Immediate asthma relief treatment
These medications should only be used in case of asthma symptoms or seizures. They provide immediate relief to help you breathe again.
Bronchodilators work in minutes to relax tight muscles around your airways and reduce symptoms faster.
Although they can be given orally or by injection, bronchodilators are usually taken with an inhaler (rescue) or nebulizer.
They can be used to treat sudden asthma symptoms or taken before exercise to prevent flare-ups.
First aid asthma treatment
If you think someone you know is having an asthma attack, ask them to sit up straight and help them use a rescue inhaler or nebulizer.
The dose will vary depending on the medication. Check the instructions to make sure you know how much medicine you need in case of an attack.
If symptoms persist for more than 20 minutes, and the second round of medication does not help, seek emergency medical help.
If you need to take frequent first aid medications, ask your doctor about other types of medications for long-term asthma control.
Long-term asthma control medications
These medications are taken daily to help reduce the number and severity of your asthma symptoms, but they do not manage the immediate symptoms of an attack.
Long-term asthma control medications include:
- Anti-inflammatory. Inhalers, corticosteroids, and other anti-inflammatory drugs help reduce swelling and
- mucus production in your airways, making it easier to breathe.
Anticholinergics. This helps prevent your muscles from tightening around your airways. It is usually taken daily in combination with an anti-inflammatory.
- Long-acting bronchodilators. They should only be used with anti-inflammatory drugs.
Doctors use biology to treat severe asthma that does not respond to other medications or to treat it by trigger control.
They work by targeting specific antibodies in your body. It disrupts the pathways that cause inflammation due to asthma.
There are five types of biomedical drugs on the market, and others are developing. These medicines need to be given either by injection or by infusion at your doctor’s office.
This treatment uses an electrode that trusts the heart to help reduce the size of the airways inside the lungs, the size of the surrounding muscles and prevent them from stiffening.
This minimally invasive procedure is performed by a doctor in a clinic or hospital and usually takes about an hour.
Bronchial thermoplasty is for people who suffer from severe asthma and can get rid of the symptoms for up to 5 years.
However, since this is a relatively new method, it is not yet widely available.
What is an asthma attack?
When your asthma symptoms gradually get worse, it is called an exacerbation or asthma attack.
Breathing becomes difficult because the airways become swollen and the bronchial tubes become narrow.
Symptoms of growth may include:
- shortness of breath
- increased heart rate
- blue lips
Although a problem can go away quickly without medication, you should consult your doctor as it can be fatal.
The longer the stress lasts, the more it can affect your ability to breathe. This is why stress often requires going to the emergency room.
Stress can be prevented by taking medications that help manage your asthma symptoms.
Prevention and management
Since researchers have not yet identified the exact cause of asthma, it is difficult to know how to prevent the inflammatory condition.
However, more information is available on how to prevent asthma attacks. These strategies include:
- Avoid stimuli. Avoid chemicals, odors, or products that have caused breathing problems in the past.
Reducing allergen exposure. If you have identified allergens, such as dust or mold, which can cause asthma attacks, avoid them if possible.
- Taking allergy shots. Allergen immunotherapy is a type of treatment that can help change your immune system. With regular shots, your body may be less sensitive to any stimuli you encounter.
Taking precautions. Your doctor may prescribe medication for you on a daily basis. This medicine can be used in addition to the medicine you use in an emergency.
Your doctor can help you develop an asthma action plan so you know which treatment to use when.
In addition to taking care of medications, you can take steps every day to keep yourself healthy and reduce your risk of asthma attacks. These include:
- Eat a healthy diet. Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help improve your overall health.
- Maintaining a moderate weight. Asthma worsens in overweight and obese people. Losing weight is healthy for your heart, your joints, and your lungs.
- Quit smoking, if you smoke. Annoying things like cigarette smoke can trigger asthma and increase the risk of COPD.
- Exercise regularly. Activity can trigger asthma attacks, but regular exercise can actually help reduce the risk of difficulty breathing.
- Managing stress. Stress can trigger asthma symptoms. Stress can also make it difficult to prevent an asthma attack.
- Nutritious foods are important to help reduce symptoms, but food allergies can trigger asthma symptoms.
When to see a doctor.
At the moment, there is no cure for asthma. However, there are many effective treatments that can reduce the symptoms of asthma. Lifestyle changes and medications can also help improve your quality of life.
If you have not been diagnosed with asthma but are experiencing symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, or shortness of breath, you should tell your doctor. You can contact a doctor in your area using the Healthline FindCare tool.
Once you have been diagnosed with asthma, you should see your doctor at least once a year or more frequently if you have persistent symptoms after using the treatment.
Call your doctor right away if you:
- Feeling weak
- Cannot perform daily activities
- There is wheezing or coughing that will not go away.
- It is important to make yourself aware of your condition and its symptoms. The more you know, the more
- active you can be to improve your lung function and how you feel.
Talk to your doctor about:
- By your asthma
- Which triggers your symptoms.
- What are the best daily treatments for you?
- Your asthma treatment plan
Asthma is a condition that causes swelling of the lungs and makes it difficult to breathe. It can affect both adults and children in different forms and at different levels of severity.
There are various medications available to treat asthma. The most common treatments are bronchodilators, which can be short-term to treat asthma attacks or long-term to manage symptoms over time.
Lifestyle changes can also help reduce asthma outbreaks. This may include dietary changes, exercise, or stress management. Talk to your doctor to identify the type of asthma you have and the best treatment and management options for you.