Asthma is a medical condition in which the airways to the lungs are affected due to inflammation, making it difficult to breathe, while also restricting or making it impossible to perform certain physical activities. In this condition, the airways are narrowed and become swollen, leading to the production of excessive mucus. In some patients, asthma is a minor problem. But in its severe forms, it can interfere with the day-to-day activities, severely compromise the quality of life, and impose the threat of a fatal asthma attack.
The condition can change its course over time and has no definitive treatment but its symptoms can be easily managed.
Symptoms of Asthma
The symptoms of medical asthma differ from person-to-person, depending on the intensity of the condition. Some patients might experience, slight difficulty, while others can have infrequent asthma attacks, with symptoms only upon physical exercise indulgence. That said, in some cases, the condition can be worse and the patient might experience strong symptoms all the time.
Some of the common symptoms and signs of asthma include:
- Acute shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
- Pain in chest
- A problem in sleeping because of coughing, breathlessness, or wheezing
- A wheezing or whistling sound while exhaling breath
- Sudden coughing or wheezing episodes which are intensified due to respiratory infection such as cold or flu
The above are symptoms that might direct towards a mild asthmatic condition. Below are some signs which indicate worsening asthma condition:
- Frequent and intense symptoms of asthma (mentioned above)
- The need to use a quick inhaler for relief more often than previous episodes
- Increasing difficulty in breathing (this will be assessed with the help of a peak flow meter that depicts the functioning of the lungs)
In other cases, patients might experience asthma symptoms in certain situations, such as:
Exercise: Some patients experience asthma symptoms while engaging in any type of physical exercise or activity. It can be worse, typically when the air is cold and dry.
Occupation: Certain occupations or workplace environments which comprise of irritants, chemical fumes, dust or gases can trigger asthmatic symptoms.
Allergy: In this condition, symptoms flare up when the patient comes in contact with an airborne substance such as pollen, mold spores, skin particles, dried saliva of pets, etc.
Symptoms of an asthma emergency
Severe asthma symptoms can lead to an asthma attack which could be life-threatening if no medical treatment is induced timely. Patients should carefully monitor these signs and symptoms, diagnose intensifications and duly keep the doctor informed. Some typical signs of an asthma emergency include:
- Rapidly intensifying shortness of breath
- Increasing intensity of wheezing
- No relief even after the quick-inhaler
- Acute shortness of breath even during minimal activity
Causes of Asthma
No definitive cause can explain why some people get asthma and others don’t. However, in most cases, it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Triggers of asthma
Large level or consistent exposure to irritants and substances can trigger allergies, which could develop into asthma. However, asthma triggers vary from person-to-person and can include any of the following:
- Airborne items such as pollen, mold spores, pet dander, etc.
- Respiratory infections
- Excessive physical activity
- Cold air
- Air pollutants and smoke
- Certain medications and drugs
- Intense emotional stress
- Preservatives and sulfites present in some food such as beer, wine, processed potatoes
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) that causes the stomach acid to move up the throat
Risk Factors of Asthma
Numerous factors can increase the likelihood of a person being affected by asthma. These include:
- Family history of asthma (sibling or parent)
- Overweight or obesity
- Consistent exposure to second-hand smoke
- Exposure to exhaust fumes or any other type of pollutants
- Occupational triggers such as chemicals used in pesticides, hairdressing, manufacturing, etc.
- Allergic conditions such as hay fever, etc.
Complications of Asthma
Untreated asthma can cause severe complications such as:
- Interference with sleep, work or recreational activities
- Increasing falling sick during asthma flare-ups
- Narrowing of the airway tubes permanently which can impact breathing
- Severe asthma attacks
- Side effects of certain medications
Proper and timely medical treatment can help effectively manage the long and short term impact of asthma.
Treatment of Asthma
Asthma can be primarily treated with breathing exercises, first-aid medications, or long-term asthma controlling techniques. The type of treatment will depend on the severity of asthma, age, type of asthma, and the triggers.
- Breathing exercises:These recommended exercises will allow more air into and out of the lungs, which will improve lung capacity over time and minimise asthma symptoms.
- Rescue or first-aid treatment: These are medications which are given to patients experiencing an asthma attack. These provide quick relief and allow normal breathing to regain. Some examples include rescue inhalers, nebulizers, bronchodilators, anti-inflammatories, etc.
- Long-term medications: These medicines are advised to patients with severe and prevalent symptoms. These medications need to be taken daily to manage symptoms.
Apart from these treatments, several home remedies such as caffeine or caffeinated tea, essential oils, mustard oil, etc. can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life.