What is asthma?
Asthma is a chronic condition that affects both children and adults. It is
characterized by inflammation of the lungs, causing an inability to breathe
properly. Certain triggers cause changes in the lungs of an asthmatic; airways
restrict and may also become filled with fluid, which can lead to wheezing,
coughing, and shortness of breath. Asthma affects 5% to 10% of the worlds
population, with the United States having record numbers of cases. Currently,
more than 17 million Americans have been diagnosed with asthma, and asthma is
one of the number one reasons for missed work and emergency room visits in the
country. Asthma can be a serious, life threatening condition, but is manageable
with proper medical care, medications, and education.
What are the symptoms of asthma?
The most common symptoms of asthma are coughing, wheezing, and shortness of
breath, but these are not the only symptoms that asthma can cause. Rapid
breathing, irritation of the nose and throat, frequent sinus infections,
allergies, excessive thirst, chest tightness and pain, productive and
non-productive persistent cough, allergies, difficulty breathing while
exercising, and waking at night with a feeling of being suffocated are all
symptoms and possible signs of asthma. An asthma attack is usually marked by
beginning with a noisy wheeze experienced while exhaling and rapid breathing.
Panic can increase the severity of an asthma attack, which is an unfortunate
thing, as an asthma attack itself can cause one to panic. I have noticed during
my own asthma attacks that I experience chills, tremors, and a cold, clammy
perspiration before and after an attack, along with marked weakness in my limbs.
It is important to remember that each persons symptoms may differ from those of
Who gets asthma?
There are many different criteria for determining who gets asthma. The two
most at risk groups for developing severe asthma are the elderly, and the urban
poor. In the United States, 6.1% of African-Americans develop severe asthma
compared to 5% of Caucasians. Also, African-Americans are three times as likely
to die from severe asthma as are Caucasians. Childhood asthma occurs most often
in boys, but after puberty reports show that cases of asthma are diagnosed most
often in young women. Women run a much greater risk of death from asthma than do
men, and the numbers are increasing steadily, especially in elderly women. 90%
of all asthma deaths in the United States occur in the elderly.
Workers in certain occupations, such as farmers, hair dressers, and those in
the textile industry, are at greater risk of developing asthma. Some known
workplace allergens that may cause asthma include polyurethane, paints, steel,
electronics, western red cedar, oak, redwood, mahogany, metal salts, vegetable
dusts, and certain red dyes, and people that work with these substances on a
regular basis have a greater risk of developing asthma.
Lifestyle also plays a major role in deciding who gets asthma. Studies have
shown that those who are obese run a far greater risk of developing the disease
than do people who maintain their recommended weight. On the other side of the
coin, highly trained athletes, such as long distance runners, bear an increased
risk as well.
It is also believed that environment can be a risk factor for those who live
in heavily polluted areas of the country, such as large cities, industrial
areas, and those who live near congested roadways.
Heredity can also bear a part in risk factors. Asthma seems to run in
families, and an asthmatic couple wishing to have children should discuss their
own risks for passing on the disease with their doctors. Asthmatics with
children should also be on the lookout for signs of the disease in their
children, as it can become quite severe if allowed to progress unnoticed.
What can trigger asthma attacks?
There are many things that can trigger asthma attacks, and they are different
for each individual. However, some of the more common triggers include primary
and second-hand cigarette smoke, food and plant allergies, allergic reactions to
insect bites and stings, certain chemicals such as chlorine and ammonia, certain
medications such as aspirin and beta-blockers, exposure to extreme hot or cold
air, extreme emotion, colds or respiratory infections, mildew and mold, dust,
and intense exercise. In 40% to 90% of people with asthma, intense exercise will
trigger coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath.
It is important to note that strong emotion, such as anxiety, fear, or panic,
can trigger asthma attacks. When suffering from an asthma attack, the victim
should be kept as calm as possible to avoid compounding or prolonging the attack
by becoming distressed or frightened. My most severe, life-threatening attack
happened after a car accident, and if I had not had a compassionate individual
on hand to calm me, my condition could have ended up very bad indeed.
What are the consequences of asthma?
Asthma can be a serious illness that results in death, but most fatalities
that are caused by asthma are preventable by seeking proper treatment from a
medical professional. All that aside, asthma is still a frightening and
debilitating disease that carries a myriad of problems along with it.
Sleeplessness is one common problem suffered by asthmatics. In fact, 40% of all
asthmatics lose at least 11 days of work or school per year due to difficulties
caused by sleeplessness or lack of quality sleep. Between 17% to 30% of all
asthmatics also develop chronic sinusitis and continuous nasal drain.
How can asthma be treated?
There are many options when discussing the treatment of asthma.
Bronchiodilators are one of the most common treatments prescribed, and may come
in the form of liquid, pills, or inhalers, such as Albuterol. Steriods are also
used in order to beef up lungs and make them stronger, thus more able to
resist asthma flare-ups. Certain exercise regimes may be recommended in order to
build lung capacity, as well as an education plan in order to avoid triggers
which may cause asthma attacks. Before undergoing any treatment plan you should
always consult with your personal physician.