Asthma is a dangerous disease of the lungs causing constricting airways, inflammation, and other complications.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a chronic lung disease characterized by inflamed and narrowing airways. More than 25 million people in the United States suffer from asthma, 7 million of whom are children.
It causes bouts of wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing, commonly occurring at bedtime or in the early morning. Some people have more attacks than others, common allergens being the most likely cause. Many people commonly have attacks that are followed by weeks, months, or years of remission. These people should continue to take their prescribed medications, even if they think they are healed. There is no cure for asthma, and it likely will not go away on its own. An attack could return at any time, sometimes by surprise.
Common asthma triggers include:
- During an asthma attack, the lining of the air passages swell, reducing the amount of air that goes in and out of the lungs. It becomes extremely difficult to get a good breath and can be very dangerous. Sometimes, the shortness of breath can be long-term, with attacks only heightening the breathing difficulty. The lack of oxygen to the bloodstream leading to the brain can cause a host of problems, as well.Animal dander and hair
- Smoke and chemicals, from tobacco or environmental
- Weather changes
- Respiratory infections
- Other allergens
Symptoms of asthma include:
- Cough, sometimes but not necessarily associated with phlegm
- Shortness of breath, which worsens with strenuous activity and exercise
- Intercostal retractions, or the skin pulling into the ribs when breathing
- Wheezing, which may have worse reactions when exposed to common triggers
- Abnormal breathing patterns
- Tightness or pain in chest
- Breathing stopping temporarily
Diagnosis and treatment
There are many ways doctors diagnose and treat asthma, including allergy testing, blood tests, chest x-rays, and lung function tests. When asthma is diagnosed, there are several treatments that will likely be administered.
|A daily control inhaler, paired with a rescue inhaler for attacks, can help to minimize the severe effects of the symptoms of asthma.|
Usually, a patient will be given two inhalers. The first is a control inhaler, that helps prevent symptoms like airway swelling. The other is a rescue inhaler, to be used during an attack, which immediately relieves the symptoms and leads to a normal breathing pattern again. In many cases, these inhalers will contain steroids. It is essential that an asthma patient not allow the medication in their inhalers to expire or run out. Planning ahead, keeping scheduled appointments with doctors, and refilling prescriptions on time can help to make sure attacks stay at a minimum. Additionally, avoid smoking and second-hand smoke at all costs.
In the event of a severe asthma attack or symptoms that are chronic, doctors might admit a patient to a hospital or send them home with special equipment. Oxygen, breathing assistance, and IV medications may be given.
When to seek emergency treatment:
|Smoke is a common asthma trigger. Quitting smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke can help to reduce the amount of attacks.|
- Extreme difficulty breathing, or stopping breathing altogether
- Drowsiness, confusion, lack of alertness, or seizure
- Lips or face turning blue
- Rapid pulse
- Severe sweating
- Anxiety or panic
- Maxing out recommended dose of medication without relief in symptoms
- Inability to talk due to symptoms
- Severe chest pain
Asthma patients need to learn how to take care of themselves at home, how to use their inhalers properly, and the triggers to look for in order to avoid severe attacks. They should also inform others who live with them what to do in the case of an emergency, including where the medication is located, how to administer it, what else can help reduce the symptoms, and when to contact emergency personnel.
Complications of asthma
- Cough that is persistent or gets worse over time
- Inability to become involved in exercise or physical activities
- Lack of sleep
- Lung function changes that are often detrimental and/or permanent
- Trouble breathing that sometimes requires a ventilator or oxygen assistance
If you or anyone you know suspects they may have asthma, contact a doctor immediately. Managing asthma symptoms can help to extend quality of life, and could potentially extend the span of life. The information in this article is not meant to diagnose any condition, or to replace any treatment given by a medical professional.