Everything You Need to Know About Asthma

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We all have heard about Asthma or have come across an asthmatic patient at some point in our lives, but do you know what exactly this disease is all about? Why does it happen? What are its symptoms and cures? If 'not really' is your answer, you are at the right place, as here's everything you ever need to know about Asthma. But, before diving into the disease and its complexities right off the bat, let's understand our breathing cycle first to understand Asthma better. Do you know that with every breath, air goes into your body through nostrils reaching down to your lungs? Of course, you know that! But here's the catch. The track in your lungs contains fine air passage that aid in delivering oxygen to the bloodstream. And Individuals with breathing conditions like Asthma find it hard to grasp air into their lungs. 

So in a word, Asthma is a chronic condition in which the inner linings of your respiratory track gets swollen, blocking the free air passage. Since it is a chronic condition, an individual afflicted with Asthma is likely to live with this condition throughout their life. Moreover, Asthma symptoms occur after the swelling of inner tracheal walls, and mucus accumulation further blocks the air passage. Therefore, the condition can bring asthma attacks with severe coughing and chest tightness. 

Tread along the article below to get deep insight into the causes, symptoms and various treatment methods for Asthma.

Asthma Symptoms

Not every individual with Asthma experiences the same symptoms. Some may have minor discomfort breathing, while others can have asthma attacks at worst. So, if you are experiencing any issues related to Asthma, no matter how trivial it is, you should not wait and consult a doctor the soonest. 

Additionally, you should keep in mind that you can experience flare-up symptoms even if your Asthma is appropriately managed. However, you can inhibit the flare-ups using prominent fast relieving techniques such as inhalers and medications, but they require treatment in extreme cases. Following is the rundown of a few common symptoms of Asthma:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing while inhaling, this is common in children
  • Mild coughing or wheezing tends to be worsened
  • Tightness and discomfort in the chest
  • Sleeping troubles, especially caused by chest pain, wheezing, or shortness of breath

Causes of Asthma

Generally, children are the most common sufferers of Asthma, pointing to the genetic causes. However, several individuals develop the symptoms of Asthma in later stages of life. Although the exact causes of Asthma are yet unknown, here are a few hypotheses that can eventually cause Asthma. 

  • Respiratory infections: During the adolescent stage, if respiratory infections cause inflammation or damage the lung tissues, it can result in Asthma. Additionally, if the damage is caused in childhood or infancy, the chances are that the issues will persist for a long time.
  • Environmental Causes: Allergens and irritants present in the environment, or exposure during childhood to other people who carry viral infection, when the immune system is not fully developed, is also likely to cause Asthma. In addition, exposure to certain chemicals or dust in the workplace or during your routine travel may also cause the onset of Asthma.
  • Allergies: Hypersensitivity to various substances can also lead to Asthma. Substances that cause prolonged allergic reactions are also responsible for asthma emergency attacks. The reason being the immune system reacts virulently to them, as it would to a bacteria or some other pathogen.
  • Family history: The family history of asthmatic patients highly increases the chances of the condition being passed down. So, if you have someone in your family who is an asthmatic patient, the chances are even you may inherit this disease from them. Moreover, if either of the parents had afflictions such as hay fever, the chances of the child developing asthmatic symptoms are higher.
  • History of Viral Infections - Individuals with severe viral infections during childhood or growing age, such as Respiratory Syncytial Viral infection (RSV), are more likely to develop asthmatic conditions at any stage in their life.
  • Hygiene Theory - According to the hypothesis, if a child isn't exposed to enough bacteria during the early months and growing age, the immunity doesn't become strong enough to fight allergic conditions to fight Asthma. 
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What is an Asthma attack?

An asthma attack accompanies a sudden feeling of breathlessness, acute chest pain, and severe coughing. Furthermore, an individual with an asthma attack needs immediate medical care. During an asthma attack, three things are likely to happen:

  • Bronchospasm: During an asthma attack, there is a constriction in the muscles around the airways. And due to this blockage, free air movement in the trachea is not possible.
  • Mucus production: During constriction, the body starts producing excessive mucus as counteraction, and it further blocks the air tracks in the throat and the chest.
  • Inflammation: Due to infections, the swelling in the inner tracheal linings does not allow air to flow, either way, causing the individual a choking sensation. 

What are some of the common triggers of an Asthma attack?

Commonly, irritants and allergens cause asthma attacks by irritating the bronchial linings and causing inflammation. So, if an individual is aware of things that can trigger their conditions, avoiding asthma attacks becomes relatively easier. Moreover, while the asthma attack triggers may differ from person to person, there are a few common reasons mentioned below:

  • Occupational exposures: Individuals working in mines and cement factories are constantly exposed to dust and particulate matters that can trigger a lung infection, causing an asthma attack. Having said that, Asbestosis is one of the prime examples of asthma attacks in professional patients. 
  • Air pollution: People residing in the areas of acute air pollution are likely to develop asthma attacks due to constant exposure to irritants. Smoke and wildfire are among the common causes of pollution resulting in Asthma. 
  • Pests and Pets: Even household reasons such as hypersensitivity to pests and pet fur can trigger asthma attacks. Mice, cockroaches and other household pests are the common causes. 
  • Tobacco smokes: Besides active smoking, passively smoking tobacco fumes can trigger asthma attacks. For example, if there is a person who smokes in the house, the patient's chances of an emergency asthma attack are higher. Therefore, the solution is avoiding smoke immediately.
  • Exercise: Excessive exercises can increase body inflammations, including air tracks, resulting in an asthma attack. Over and above, in the case of some patients, exercise can be a potential trigger of an asthma attack.
  • Pollen: In case you observe that your Asthma regularly worsens during the spring, the likely cause could be the grass or weed pollens.

How to handle an Asthma attack?

Primarily, it would help if you avoid the triggers that cause asthma attacks. And to do so, the best way is to inhibit the irritant from reaching your nose. For example, you can use a mask for a shorter duration while visiting places of intense triggers.  

Furthermore, as per medical advice, you should never leave your asthma medications aside, even if you believe your condition is improving or has improved to a greater extent. Nevertheless, if it so happens that you find yourself without an inhaler and an attack is impending, here are a few steps you need to take urgently:

  • Sit upright: In case of asthma attacks, bending or lying down won't help. Therefore, the upright posture is highly recommended for preventing any further constriction of airflow.
  • Stay calm: Panicking may create extra constriction in the chest, so staying calm during an asthma attack is significantly required. This method applies to the asthma patient as well as any caretaker or friend who is around because staying calm can help worsen the situation. 
  • Hot beverages: In case there happens to be a drinks machine nearby providing hot beverages; you can try some tea or other caffeinated drinks. The main reason for this is the warmth may help to provide some relief to the airways.
  • Get away from the triggering agents: If you know that the attack is triggered by dust, cigarette smoke, or the smell of chemicals in some nearby industry area, you need to leave immediately and relocate to a place where you find a more conducive atmosphere.
  • Immediate medical attention: In case the wheezing, or the breathlessness, does not subside after some time, you should definitely not keep the issue to yourself. In fact, you need to either seek professional help as soon as possible or take the help of whoever can assist you immediately.
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Asthma Treatment

Being a chronic condition, Asthma may reappear in the individual. However, you can control re-occuring asthma attacks with proper care and medicine. Some of the usual prescriptions for asthma treatment are as follows:

  • Inhaled Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids ease constrictions in the muscles. Therefore, using such inhalers create fewer chances of asthma flare-ups and better lung function. Over and above, it should be remembered that inhaling steroids may prevent symptoms but not relieve them entirely. Also, note that inhalable corticosteroids include beclomethasone dipropionate, budesonide, ciclesonide etc.
  • Systemic Corticosteroids: An alternate method to inhaled corticosteroids are systemic corticosteroids. These medications are delivered in either oral form or through intravenous methods. Some examples of these products include cortisone acetate, dexamethasone, hydrocortisone.
  • Leukotriene Modifiers: Leukotrienes are chemicals that cause the airway muscles to tighten and check mucus production. In addition, they are administered in pill form. Some of the usual leukotriene modifiers are Montelukast, Zafirlukast, Zileuton etc.
  • Monoclonal Antibodies: Monoclonal antibodies target the cells that are part of the body's immune system. However, these should be administered strictly under the care of a pulmonologist.
  • Mast cell stabilisers: These medications prevent the release of histamine and other inflammatory substances. 

Alternative Asthma Treatments

While allopathic medications can provide quick and symptomatic relief, you may need to focus on your diet and lifestyle to inhibit Asthma from re-occurring. Several non-allopathic methods have proven beneficial in reducing asthma conditions in individuals in the long run. To name a few, the following are the alternative treatments for Asthma:  

  • Yoga: Breathing exercises are especially helpful in stabilising the risk of asthma attacks. Having said that, traditional yoga practices can significantly aid an individual with Asthma to minimise the condition. While doctors may not prescribe this, patients often claim that following these simple breathing exercises reduces their troubles. Overall, an asthma patient can perform regular yoga exercises and take allopathic medication to reduce the chronic condition to a greater extent. 
  • Herbs and Vitamins: Several natural anti-inflammatory products such as fish oil and black seed oil are available on the market. The major advantage of these natural products is they include no or minimal side effects. For example, Fish oil acts as an anti-inflammatory edible. Next, Slippery elm bark is a demulcent, which soothes mucus membranes irritated by chronic coughing. Lastly, Black seed oil and caffeine can also act as mild bronchial dilators.
  • Biofeedback: It is claimed that biofeedback can help lung function and reduce the dependency on traditional dosage once the technique has been mastered. Adding to that, the technique utilises electronic monitoring devices that feed information to the individual in order to teach the person how to control their bodily functions that usually happen on an involuntary basis.

Dietary Recommendations

Diet changes do not directly help reduce your chances of an asthma attack. However, as per pulmonological research, asthma patients should avoid canned or processed foods since they contain abundant preservatives, emulsifiers and food colouring substances. On the contrary, antioxidant fruits and vegetables are good for maintaining overall respiratory health as they help remove free radicals from the body and repair damaged cells. Additionally, fruits such as mangoes and bananas need to be avoided as they can promote mucus growth.

Furthermore, high water intake ensures enough moisture in your bronchial track reducing the chances of inflammation and asthma attacks. The need for higher water intake also arises because asthmatic patients suffer from dry lungs and need moist air for passages to function without intervention. So, you can follow the aforementioned dietary recommendations to prevent asthma attacks. 

Who is at risk for Asthma?

Anyone can develop Asthma at any stage in their life. While children may acquire Asthma genetically or due to underdeveloped immunity against allergens, older people may develop the condition due to their lifestyle choices. In case you have specific allergies or are exposed to tobacco smoke or second-hand smoke, you have a higher chance of developing Asthma. 

Which Inhaler is right for you?

To decide upon a suitable inhaler, you need to consider the nature of your doctor's medication and whether you are comfortable using it. Based on various conditions such as the cause of trigger and type of Asthma, several inhalers are available, as mentioned below:

Metered-dose Inhalers: 

In a metered-dose inhaler, a pressurised canister is fitted into an elongated mouthpiece which is broad at the bottom. The advantage of this type of inhaler is that there are in built dose counters that allow you to track how many doses remain.

Dry Powder Inhaler: 

These inhalers allow the medication to be released when the patient inhales a deep breath, and it eschews the use of chemical propellants.

Soft Mist Inhaler:

These inhalers allow you to inhale the medication over a slightly more extended period than the earlier options. The mist inhaler delivers the medication in the form of a low-velocity aerosol that eases the trachea walls.

Nebulisers: 

The device converts the medication into a fine mist, making it easier for inhalation, especially for old or very young asthmatic patients. With Nebulisers, the medication enters the nose through normal breathing and relaxes the constricted muscles. 

Salbutamol Inhaler: 

Salbutamol is commonly used for relieving symptoms of Asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders. In case you cannot take it in the form of an inhaler, there is also the option of dosage being administered in the form of tablets, capsules or syrup.

Supporting an Acquaintance During Asthma Attacks

An emergency can arise at any moment, and being prepared is the surest solution during an asthma attack. In addition, the right knowledge of handling the asthma problem can be life-saving, for sure. Naturally, you would feel responsible if your friend or acquaintance suffered from an attack while in your company, and it makes sense to be prepared for the eventuality. Therefore, these are some steps you can take to make things easier for your friend:

  • Keep Inhaler handy: Speak up if you believe that the patient demonstrates the concerning symptoms. Early intervention will prevent escalation, and you should have a rescue inhaler or a bronchial dilator handy at all times.
  • Refrain from smoking; You must avoid smoking around an asthma patient. This is because Tobacco is a powerful trigger for asthma attacks. Moreover, you surely would not want to be a reason of trigger for any of your close acquaintances. Also, note that even the scent of old smoke left behind on clothes can also act as a triggering agent.
  • Make work-related compromises: In case you are working in an industry setting, and your colleague is a patient, you could afford to exchange certain chores with them. For instance, you could offer to manage the work in any factory locations where smoke, fire, or toxic fumes are likely to be there, thus sparing the patient from a severe asthma attack.

Frequently asked questions

Q1: In case I had Asthma as a child, can I outgrow it?

Ans: Unfortunately, the answer is no. Asthma is a lifelong disease. If a child has asthma symptoms during his teens, he may eventually have fewer symptoms, but he still has Asthma. However, it may also degrade at any stage of life. Hence, you must always ensure preventive measures for avoiding asthma conditions. 

Q2: Are there some specific foods, which if consumed, can cause the asthma problem to worsen?

Ans: The evidence is unclear whether an allergic reaction to certain food substances can develop asthma symptoms. Although, it is believed that certain chemicals or ingredients trigger your asthma problem. For instance, histamine and sulphites are considered to be food sensitivities that trigger asthma symptoms. Histamine is present in yoghurt, mature cheese as well as alcoholic drinks. Moreover, sulphites are used as preservatives in dried fruits, pickled foods etc.

Q3: How to know if your asthma problem is actually being triggered by a food substance?

Ans: You could refer to an allergy test, such as a skin prick test, to confirm or rule out the same. Moreover, maintaining a food and symptom diary could help in clearly identifying any correlations.

Q4: Does alcohol consumption make a difference to the health of an asthma patient?

Ans: Alcohol contains substantial amounts of histamine, which is also released as part of the body's response to allergies. Therefore, it is strongly suggested for the asthma patient to cut down their alcohol consumption to avoid any issues. 

Q5: Is Asthma contracted only during childhood?

Ans: A child may contract Asthma due to underdeveloped immunity and other genetic reasons, but asthma is not an age-specific health issue and can occur at any stage of life. Even adults can develop Asthma as late in life as the age of 50 or 60 years. 

Q6: Can Asthma reappear in adults, once the symptoms had subsided many years ago?

Ans:In case, Asthma is diagnosed in a person during childhood or adolescence, the chances are that the symptoms might reduce after puberty. However, it has been observed that the symptoms might start recurring again, with varying levels of severity, around the ages of 30 and 40. However, you can substantially inhibit the re-occurrence with proper lifestyle and precautions. 

Q7: Can an asthma attack turn fatal?

Ans: Yes, an asthma attack has the potential of turning fatal if the flow of oxygen to the lungs dries up completely. In case of severe attacks, the patient must seek immediate medical care. 

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