What is Asthma?
Do you have trouble breathing or suffer from chest tightness and wheezing? If so, you may have Asthma, a condition that effects about twelve million people in the United States. Learn how to know for sure if you or someone you know may have this debilitating condition.
Asthma is a serious disease that effects the lungs and is one of the most common long term diseases among children. It causes shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing and chest tightness. Severe asthma can result in reduced activity and the inability to talk or even carry on a normal conversation. There is no cure for asthma, but with proper treatment it can be controlled.
The three major features of asthma are airway obstruction, inflammation, and irritation of the airways.
Airway Obstruction: In a healthy person, the muscle that surrounds the airways are relaxed allowing air to move freely. However, asthmas sufferers often experience a tightening of the bands of muscle that surround the airways. Environmental triggers, colds and respiratory viruses can cause the muscles to tighten which restricts normal air flow. This can cause shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing.
Inflammation: Over time asthma symptoms can cause the bronchial tubes to become red and swollen. For this reason, many doctors treat the inflammation associated with asthma so as not to further damage the lungs and bronchial tubes.
Irritation of the airways: Those with asthma have very sensitive airway that are easily irritated. Pollen and dust are huge triggers that can result in serious breathing problems.
In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control reported that 18.9 million adult Americans had been diagnosed with asthma. Even though asthma can occur to anyone at any time, it is most commonly seen in those who are under forty years of age. There is also a higher risk of developing asthma if someone else in your family suffers from asthma too. Also, people with asthma often have other allergies as well as a skin condition known as eczema.
About one out of every ten American children has asthma, and the numbers are constantly rising. In fact, the rate of asthma in children has doubled since 1980. The signs and symptoms are never the same for each child. The following are some signs to look for if you think that your child may have asthma.
Coughing spells that occur frequently: These spells can occur at any time of day and can often be the only symptom the child has.
Reduced energy: Children with asthma will often have less energy and may stop frequently to rest and catch their breath when playing.
Tightness of chest: They may complain that their chest feels tight or hurts which is a result of the muscles around the airways tightening.
Wheezing: Wheezing is the whistling sound that is made when breathing in and out of airways that are inflamed or narrowed.
People with asthma are very sensitive to allergy triggers in the environment. When they come in contact with certain allergy triggers their symptoms worsen which can often result in an asthma attack. Some of the most common allergy triggers are:
- Tobacco smoke and secondhand smoke
- Respiratory infections, colds and flu
- Stronger than normal emotions such as laughing or crying (Stress and anxiety can also be triggers of asthma.)
- Weather changes
- Strong odors and air pollution
- Pollen, mold, dust mites and pet dander
- Exercise (This is also known as exercise induced asthma.)
What is an asthma attack?
An asthma attack happens when someone who has asthma is exposed to "asthma triggers". Exposure to these triggers causes the muscles that surround your airways to swell. This makes the airways much smaller which allows less air through to your lungs. Less air to your lungs can result in coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and trouble breathing. Your body also produces mucus during an asthma attack which clogs your airways even further. An asthma attack can be controlled and even avoided if you learn what your "asthma triggers" are and how to avoid them.
Types of Asthma
There are several different types of asthma, and knowing which type you have is important when you are trying to learn how to treat your symptoms. The following are some of the most common types of asthma.
Allergic asthma: The most common type of asthma is allergic asthma, and half of those diagnosed with asthma have this type. People with allergic asthma have airways that are very sensitive to certain allergens such as mold, pollen and dust mites. When these allergens get into the airways, the immune system overreacts and coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath can occur.
Exercise-Induced Asthma: Just as it sounds exercise induced asthma is asthma that is triggered by exercise or strenuous activity. People with chronic asthma will often experience asthma symptoms during exercise. However, those with exercise induced asthma experience asthma symptoms only with exercise or prolonged activity. The muscles around the airways are sensitive to temperature and humidity changes which results in a narrowing of the airways. The symptoms are similar to other types of asthma but may also include fatigue when exercising. An inhaler can usually help ease the symptoms, but should always be prescribed by a doctor.
Cough-Variant Asthma: The main symptom of this type of asthma is a dry cough. Those with cough variant asthma usually have no other symptoms. It is also referred to chronic cough and can occur at any time of day or night. It is sometimes caused by allergy triggers, exercise or a respiratory infection, and can sometimes lead to chronic asthma.
There are a few early warning signs that signal an asthma attack. If you know the signs, you might be able to seek treatment that can help prevent the symptoms of a severe asthma attack. Some of the early warning signs are:
· A frequent cough
· Feelings of weakness when exercising
· Signs of upper respiratory infections
· Sleeping difficulties
· Shortness of breath
Not everyone with asthma will experience the same symptoms. However, the symptoms mentioned above are some of the most common that are associated with asthma. There is no cure for asthma, but medications are available that can help asthma sufferers live a happy normal life. Be familiar with your individual asthma triggers so that you can avoid or even possibly prevent an asthma attack.