Asthma FAQs Symptoms and Treatment.
What is asthma?
Bronchial asthma is a chronic inflammation of the lower respiratory ways. It is the narrowing of the bronchial lumen as a result of their spasm under the action of immune mechanisms that cause swelling of the respiratory mucosa. It involves the participation of various cell elements, including mast cells, eosinophils and T-lymphocytes. In predisposed persons, this process leads to the onset of bronchial obstruction of varying severity, fully or partially reversible spontaneously or under the influence of treatment.
According to the WHO, 235 million people in total suffer from the disease. It makes around 4-10% of the total population.
The disease can start to manifest at any age: nearly in a half of affected individuals it develops at the age below 10 years and one-third of individuals develop is at the age younger than 40. Among kids, most frequently asthma affects boys but at the age of 30, the sex ratio is aligned.
Since the 1980s, the incidence of asthma constantly rose until recently. The growth of the disorder spread is associated with the pollution of the environment and the sedentary lifestyle.
What are asthma symptoms?
Since it affects the respiratory tract, the signs of its manifestation are closely related to airway disorders:
– Episodes of shortness of breath;
– Tension in the chest;
– Choking, feeling short of breath;
– Ache in the chest.
Commonly, the most pronounced symptoms occur after contact with an allergen.
When asthma is accompanied by allergic rhinitis, its symptoms can occur only at a certain time of the year or be year-round present with seasonal aggravations.
In some patients, a seasonal elevation of allergens in the air, for instance, pollen, increases the number of flare-ups.
The manifestations can also occur in the contact with unspecific irritants such as smoke, gases, strong odors, or after exercise. They may worsen at night and decrease in response to basic therapy.
How can I get asthma?
Asthma isn’t a contagious disease. It can start as a reaction to certain factors. The risk factors include:
– Genetic predisposition. If someone from family suffers from asthma, there is a chance that you can develop it too especially if both of your parents have it.
– People who work with a high level of irritating substances in the air, such as gases, dust, vapors, strong odors, and so on (including miners, painter, librarian, storekeepers, etc.) are more prone to the onset of asthma;
– People who live in megalopolises or industrial districts are exposed to the polluted environment and are likely to develop the disease;
– People who suffer from allergy and frequent flare-ups or people who neglect their allergy and do not minimize the contact with an allergen can develop asthma as a complication.
– Overweight people have 52% more chance of developing asthma.
– Smoking individuals can develop asthma but the likelihood is higher if they also have an allergy.
If you have one or several risk factors, it is important to catch a disease at an early stage, i.e. when the first symptoms such as wheezing, cough, and tightness in the chest occur.
What causes asthma?
Asthma is induced by genetic predisposition, poor environmental factors, exposure to dust, gases, vapors, allergens, and so on. A single reason for asthma occurrence cannot be named. Frequently, it is a result of several factors combined.
In 90% of cases, asthma starts to manifest itself in childhood. During puberty, it can exist without any symptoms and start to manifest later, for instance, as an addition to severe pneumonia, stress, after childbirth, or menopause. This means that if asthma symptoms suddenly appear at the age of 45-50 years, a person had it from childhood.
In around 10%, the symptoms can onset at the age of 65-70 years as a result of accumulated changes in the response of the bronchi to the external environment, which over time can lead to the development of asthma.
Is asthma a hereditary disease?
Yes and no. In most of cases, it develops if parents have asthma. But as we have previously discussed, it can develop later on in life in healthy individuals due to environmental, professional, and other factors.
Can asthma develop as a result of frequent cold, flu, untreated bronchitis, and so on?
Yes, it is partially true. These conditions can lead to the development of a health condition with similar symptoms but it is called differently – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Asthma, more frequently, develops as a result of allergy that had transferred to the bronchi.
In rare cases, frequent and untreated common cold and flu episodes trigger a complex receptor mechanism, and so-called asthma of physical effort occurs. In this case, the patient is faced with difficulty breathing and coughing when working out.
Can I have asthma without allergy?
Yes. In fact, most commonly asthma is a complication of allergy but healthcare specialists distinguish five types of the condition and only one of them is of allergic nature. For instance, asthma that develops at a mature age is not an allergy-induced one.
Can asthma be cured?
Whether it is real to completely get rid of the condition depends on its form, cause, age and the state of health of an individual. The most easily treatable allergic form of the disease, especially if the allergen has been identified and the exposure is minimized. The most positive result of the treatment is expected in children and teens. With timely treatment, such patients outgrow the disease.
Worth noting there are different approaches to the term “cured”. In the everyday sense, it means to get rid of the condition once and for all. But it’s only relatable to acute diseases such as colds, pneumonia, etc. For chronic health conditions, this term is incorrect.
From a medical point of view, the treatment of such diseases is aimed at creating conditions in which the patient can have the same quality of life as a person without the same diagnosis in terms of their abilities, life expectancy, and so on.
In the everyday sense, it cannot be cured. But from a healthcare point of view, it is possible to choose a treatment plan which will block the inflammation and prevent asthma attacks. Then the patient can be in any environment, engage in any physical activity as healthy people without having any restrictions.
How is asthma diagnosed?
The preliminary diagnosis is made based on the patient’s complaints about wheezing, shortness of breath, and suffocation episodes. To confirm the diagnosis the following tests are appointed:
– Spirometry is the most precise test for asthma detection. It is a method of studying respiratory function, which includes the measuring of volume and speed of respiration. It allows estimating how much air the airways can pass through. If a reduction in their patency is found, an additional sample with an anti-asthma medication is appointed. If after it the patency of the bronchi improved, the diagnosis is confirmed.
– To find out whether the disease is caused by allergy and to detect a trigger, i.e. an allergen that causes an asthma attack, allergy tests are made such as prick test or injection of small amount of most widespread allergens under the skin.
– X-ray examinations and CT scans are made for the assessment of the lung tissue condition and the identification of emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and so on.
How is asthma treated?
The treatment of the disease is based on two measures aimed at the expansion of the bronchi lumen:
– Formulations that relax the bronchi walls, which leads to the elimination of muscle spasm and, expands the lumen of the airways. Such medications are taken for emergency relief of suffocation. For instance, such inhalers as Albuterol by GlaxoSmithKline are used.
– Medications for maintenance therapy are aimed at the blocking of the allergic reaction in the bronchi, which diminishes swelling and increases the lumen of the airways. For example, such medications as Pulmicort (Budesonide) by Cipla and others are used.
Is it true that asthma medications cause addiction so it’s better to minimize their use?
No, it is not true. Without the use of appropriate medications, the treatment of asthma is impossible. The medications are used to suppress the inflammation and prevent the aggravation of the condition and even a life-threatening condition called status asthmaticus.
Besides, when an individual with asthma has an emergency inhaler (short-acting inhaler) at hand, it gives them a sense of security and the attacks are less likely to develop and even if they do, the person has a quick way of coping with suffocation.
Asthma medications do not cause addiction. They are safe for a patient as they do not get into the blood and do not affect internal organs – they act locally in the airways where they are delivered with the help of an inhaler.
The systemic drugs, i.e. pills that are taken orally, are prescribed only in severe asthma and they also do not cause addiction.
What is the status asthmaticus?
It is a severe life-threatening complication of asthma that can develop when a long suffocation attack occurs and isn’t stopped by the short-acting inhalers. It is characterized by bronchiole edema, the accumulation of thick sputum in them, which leads to an increase in asphyxiation and hypoxia.
The development of asthmatic status requires emergency intensive care; the mortality due to it is about 5%.