Asthma is a chronic lung disease that causes acute breathing discomfort. People find it hard to catch a breath after exerting or doing some physical activity. They cannot do without an inhaler as this is an inflammatory disease that causes inflammation in the airways to the lungs. The number of asthma patients is increasing rapidly due to pollution and millions of people worldwide including children are becoming asthmatic. They get a sudden asthma attack where the airways swell and muscles tighten blocking the flow. Tightness in the chest and coughing are signs of an asthma attack.
What are the signs and symptoms of Asthma?
While the most common symptoms of asthma are breathlessness, wheezing and a whistling sound during breathing, some other signs may occur little before the aforesaid ones. These include:
- Coughing while exercising, laughing or during sleep
- Tightness in the chest
- Unable to catch a breath
- Difficulty in speaking
- Panic or anxiety
However, these symptoms are more evident in people who have prolonged asthma conditions. Also, every asthma patient cannot experience the same set of symptoms as others.
What causes Asthma?
There is no particular cause of asthma as researchers failed to find one single cause of this inflammatory condition. They believe that there are multiple factors that trigger asthma. These include:
Genetics: If someone in the family like parents or elder siblings has asthma, the risk of younger siblings getting asthma increases.
History of viral infections: If you have ever suffered from respiratory syncytial virus or other severe viral infections, you may be at a greater risk of asthma.
Poor hygiene- There is a hypothesis regarding hygiene according to which, babies who aren’t exposed to bacteria in their infanthood may develop asthma. This is because their immune systems are weak and due to poor exposure, they are an easy target for allergies including asthma.
These are the common causes but there are certain triggers that you also need to be aware of. These can cause mild to severe symptoms depending upon the triggers. These include:
Illness- if you have any existing respiratory condition such as flu, pneumonia or viruses, these can trigger asthma
Allergens- There are certain allergens like pollen, dust mites and animal dander that can trigger an asthma attack
Irritants- Smoke, chemical fumes, strong odours and other such irritants can also trigger asthma in people who are sensitive to these irritants
Extreme weather conditions- some environmental conditions such as extremely low temperature or very humid weather can also trigger asthma attacks
Exercise- Those who have asthma can easily trigger an attack by disturbing breathing.
Emotions- crying, laughing and shouting can also cause asthma attacks
How Many Types of Asthma Are There?
Asthma is a disease in itself but there are several types of asthma that the common public does not know about. While the main type remains bronchial asthma that affects bronchi, there are several other types as per the symptoms, triggers and age factor.
Allergic Asthma or Extrinsic Asthma
As the name suggests, this asthma is triggered by allergens such as food, pollen, dust, mold, animal pet dander, etc. Allergic asthma is considered seasonal asthma.
Non-allergic asthma or intrinsic asthma
This asthma is triggered by the allergens present in the atmosphere such as air pollution, cigarette smoke, fumes from burning wood, air fresheners with a strong smell, strong perfumes, cleaning products and viral illnesses.
This asthma type is based on the asthma triggers that are in a workplace or in a limited space such as dyes, dust, industrial chemicals, rubber latex, animal proteins, gases and fumes, to name but a few. These are mainly seen in the industries such as textiles, manufacturing, farming, woodworking, etc.
Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB)
This type of asthma is related to exercising or exertion factor. Earlier, EIB was known as exercise-induced asthma. Also, an interesting fact is that most asthma patients have EIB but not all EIB suffers have other types of asthma. This is when people get asthma attacks after physical activity.
This asthma is triggered at the night especially during colder nights. While cold temperature is the main trigger, the other factors that cause symptoms to worsen at night are dust mites, pet dander, heartburn, etc. This asthma is also easily triggered by the sleep cycle. If your sleep cycle gets disturbed, your asthma may get triggered.
How is Asthma Diagnosed?
There is a series of tests that are conducted in order to determine if someone has asthma since there is no fixed diagnostic test that can help in the identification of this inflammatory disease.
Health history- The doctor would first question you about the history of asthma or any respiratory disorder in you or your family. Genetic asthma might be possible in such cases.
Pulmonary function tests or Breathing tests- This is done to test the airflow in and out of the lungs.
Physical exam- Doctor would also measure your breathing with a stethoscope. The doctor would also ask you of any allergies that you might have as allergic reactions are also common triggers of asthma.
Classifications of asthma
For proper treatment, there are certain classifications made based on the severity of asthma. This helps in providing the right treatment. Here is the list of classifications:
- Intermittent asthma- This asthma doesn’t affect the lifestyle of the person. The symptoms are mild and don’t last for long. Most asthma patients have this one.
- Mild persistent asthma- In this condition, the symptoms of asthma are slightly more frequent than intermittent asthma.
- Moderate persistent asthma- The asthma attack may occur either daily or 3-4 times a week. They may also affect daily activities.
- Severe persistent asthma- People with this asthma experience symptoms multiple times a day and night. Their asthma condition also limits their daily activities.
Treatment for Asthma
The doctor would suggest one of these asthma treatment options as per your condition, age and triggers.
These help in improving the capacity of lungs and easing the symptoms through breathing exercises. You can consult a doctor for this.
These treatment options help in providing quick relief to the attack.
Bronchodilators- This is the most common asthma treatment which is taken through inhalers or nebulizer. This effectively reduces the symptoms by relaxing the muscles.
Long-term asthma control medications- There are several medicines that help in easing symptoms and reducing the attacks. These include anticholinergics, anti-inflammatory medicines, biologic therapy drugs, long-acting bronchodilators, and bronchial thermoplasty.