Asthma is a chronic disease characterized by recurrent attacks of breathlessness and wheezing. During an asthma attack, the lining of the bronchial tubes (airways) swells, causing the airways to narrow, turn more sensitive to irritants in the environment, and thus reducing the flow of air into and out of the lungs. The causes of asthma are not completely understood.
However, risk factors for developing asthma include inhaling asthma “triggers”, such as allergens (some common to all and some individualized), tobacco smoke and chemical irritants. Several patients with asthma may also have allergic rhinitis which is characterized by sneezing and “runny” nose. It can start at any age. About half of all people with asthma tend to have their first symptoms by the age of ten years, and many children with asthma have had their first asthma attack before the age of six. Asthma cannot be cured, but appropriate management can control the disorder and enable people to enjoy a good quality of life.
Asthma symptoms can vary in severity with time, can come and go, there may be good and bad periods. Asthma is characterized by:
Recurrent episodes of wheezing
Shortness of breath
Coughing-sometimes cough may be the only symptom of asthma
Sputum may be produced from the lung due to coughing, small in volume and often in the form of threads and plugs. Symptoms are generally worse at night and in the early morning or in response to allergens.
When uncontrolled, there may be acute asthma attacks often occurring after viral infections (flu, cold), allergen/irritant exposure (pets, pollen, dust, atmospheric pollution, tobacco smoke), exercise, weather changes, medications (aspirin). Danger signs of an acute asthma attack are symptoms not improving after airway-opener inhaler medication, and difficulty in talking due to breathlessness, peak flow-meter readings ranging below 50% of normal value, and require urgent medical attention.
A number of other health conditions are found associated with asthma including:
Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Obstructive sleep apnea
The exact cause of asthma is yet not known. But there are certain risk factors that are associated with asthma. It is probably caused by interplay of hereditary and environmental factors.
Some of the factors include:
· An inherited tendency to develop allergies, called atopy (AT-o-pe). Children with eczema or food allergy are more likely than other children to develop asthma.
· Parents who have asthma (heredity).
· Allergens from dust, animal fur, cockroaches, mold, and pollens from trees, grasses, and flowers etc.
· Irritants such as cigarette smoke, air pollution, chemicals or dust in the workplace and sprays (such as hair spray).
· Medicines such as aspirin or other non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and nonselective beta-blockers.
· Sulfites in foods and drinks
· Viral upper respiratory infections, such as colds
· Physical activity, including exercise
· Contact with some airborne allergens or exposure to some viral infections in infancy or in early childhood when the immune system is developing.