Asthma is a fairly common respiratory problem. It affects close to 235 million people around the world and is responsible for the deaths of 1000 people every day globally. It is more prevalent in children than adults and is the leading chronic ailment amongst children. Asthma affects more boys than girls.
Asthma can set in anytime during a person’s life – during childhood or adulthood. But how harmful is asthma? Can it be cured? Even better, can it be prevented in the first place? We have all the answers for you. Read on to learn everything you wanted to know about asthma.
Let’s begin with what asthma is –
Asthma is a chronic disease and it affects the lung’s airways called bronchial tubes. Asthma causes inflammation of the inner walls of the bronchial tubes that are responsible for transferring air to and from your lungs. Naturally, a swelling constricts the airways that make breathing difficult. What makes it chronic is that incidents of respiratory problems keep recurring. This happens because asthma also makes the bronchial tubes vulnerable to allergies and irritations. And when allergens (any foreign particle) enter your airways, the airways swell up again and this triggers shortness of breath or breathlessness.
The intensity of asthma differs from one person to another. In some, it is a minor annoyance and in others, asthma can be a crippling and dangerous disorder that disrupts their everyday life.
What are the types of asthma?
There are 6 types of asthma-
- Bronchial asthma: The commonest form of asthma, this is the one that is initiated by a narrowing of the bronchial tubes.
- Allergic asthma: This kind of asthma results from being exposed to allergens such as air-borne matters like pollens from flowers, mould particles, fur shed by your pets.
- Non-allergic asthma: Here the attacks arise from cold air, air pollution, viral fevers, cleaning products, perfumes etc.
- Asthma caused by exercise: Symptoms show up after a period of physical exertion.
- Occupational asthma: You may be exposed to substances at your place of work such as chemicals, particles or gases that can trigger an asthma attack.
- Nocturnal asthma: This kind of asthma strikes only at nights and prompts insomnia.
Childhood Asthma and Adult-Onset Asthma –
Asthma can also be classified according to one’s age – childhood asthma and adult-onset asthma. Both have the same symptoms. But the only difference is, in very young children asthma attacks are not triggered by allergens or foreign particles which is a typical cause of asthma attacks in adults. Their allergic reaction usually is not accompanied by the symptoms of asthma.
Childhood asthma –
Currently, nearly 6.2 million children all around the world suffer from asthma. This chronic disease in children can be either intermittent or regular. Children usually experience an asthma attack after a session at the school playground (exercise-induced bronchospasm) or because of second-hand smoking (a leading trigger of childhood asthma, which continues to damage their growing airways). In children, the possibility of an asthma attack taking on severe proportions is quite high. In fact, more children are admitted to a hospital owing to a serious asthma attack than adults. Two very common asthma causes in children is a family history of asthma, or if your child had a very low birth weight, then there is a likelihood that your child might contract asthma.
Childhood asthma is not curable. But, that does not mean that your child will not be able to enjoy a happy natural childhood. Make sure that your child gets the medicines that have been prescribed regularly to minimize the possibility of an asthma attack. But more importantly, make sure that she/he isn’t exposed to second-hand smoking. Teach your child how to use the inhaler and ensure that it’s always present in your child’s school bag.
Adult-onset asthma –
People who were spared the burden of asthma in their childhood may still come down with it at any point in their adult lives. This is adult-onset asthma. In children, the asthma symptoms are usually intermittent, but asthma symptoms in adults are more persistent and daily management of asthma symptoms may be necessary.
Women more commonly develop asthma in their 20s than men. Some common asthma causes that may trigger an attack in adults are –
- Hormonal dysfunction in women
- Viruses or an infection
- Stress and anxiety
- Family history of asthma
What are the symptoms of Asthma?
Asthma symptoms can manifest themselves unpredictably. They can come and go. However, there are some people who experience mild asthma symptoms throughout the year. Without further ado, these are some symptoms that all asthma patients complain of-
- Breathlessness or inability to draw in a deep breath
- A sensation of tightness in the chest
- Bouts of coughing or wheezing
- Inability to go to sleep because of shortness of breath
- You may notice a whistling sound emanating from your airways when you breathe in
- Especially prolonged coughing or wheezing fits when you’ve caught a cold or the flu
When should you be concerned?
If you have asthma, you always have to be on your guard. But look out for these few signs because they indicate that your asthma is worsening-
- Your regular asthma symptoms have become much more frequent or the time interval between two asthma attacks has narrowed
- You are having to use your inhaler more often
- The inhaler doesn’t seem to be helping
What is an asthma attack?
An asthma attack is also called asthma exacerbation and as the name suggests, this happens when your symptoms reach a peak. The airways muscles contract more than ever and produce a lot more mucus than usual and this causes laboured breathing and uninterrupted coughing. The reason an asthma attack is dangerous is that when the bronchial tubes narrow, not enough oxygen reaches the lungs, that means oxygen-rich blood cannot reach the different organs and tissues of your body. Without oxygen, they will not be able to perform their job.
Neither will your lungs be able to expel carbon dioxide- another major function of the lungs. Carbon dioxide is deadly for your body. That is why you should be especially wary of asthma attacks.
The duration of an asthma attack can be anything from a few minutes to hours. And the effect can vary from mild to severe.
What should you do when you feel an asthma attack coming on?
First of all, you have to stay absolutely calm. Panicking or hyperventilation will aggravate your asthma attack. If you have been diagnosed with asthma, you should always carry an inhaler with you. And when an attack is about to set in, a quick puff should take care of it. Your inhaler contains medicines such as beta 2 agonist or anticholinergic bronchodilators that instantly clear up your airways and let you breathe again by relaxing the tightened muscles.
If that does not help, or if your asthma attack is severe, you should seek medical help immediately before the situation aggravates. A severe asthma attack can completely cut off the oxygen supply and this kind of attack kills nearly 250,000 people globally every year.
Can asthma recur after childhood?
In many instances, the signs and symptoms of asthma reduce in intensity after puberty. But they may strike again once the person enters his/her twenties. This will be a case of reappearing asthma. If you had been diagnosed with asthma as a child, but it is not affecting you anymore, you should continue to be on your guard and steer clear of common triggers.
Asthma diagnosis –
If you (or your child) have experienced any of the symptoms we mentioned and suspect it to be a case of asthma, then you will have to consult a doctor. An asthma diagnosis is simple. A physical examination during which a physician will listen to the sounds emanated by your lungs and airways with a stethoscope, a few painless breathing tests called lung function tests and detailed scrutiny of your family history will confirm if it is indeed asthma that you have contracted. The tests will also determine the level of your asthma (mild, moderate or severe). Depending on the results, a course of action will be finalized.
Asthma Treatment –
Asthma cannot be cured. But, there is no reason why asthma should mess up your life. And the first thing you have to do to keep it under check is to track your symptoms. This will help you keep tabs on whether the symptoms are intensifying or maybe hopefully retreating. Your medication will have to be adjusted accordingly.
Next up in asthma treatment are the medicines: depending on the level of your asthma severity, you will be prescribed inhalers, nebulizers or corticosteroids. You must never skip a dose as that may bring on an asthma attack.
You will also have to do a few breathing exercises such as pursed-lip breathing or belly breathing that will train your lungs to take in more oxygen.
Are there any home remedies for asthma?
There are quite a few home remedies for asthma that will make your asthma medication much more effective and actively ward off attacks. Here are a few reliable household remedies-
- Coffee –
Coffee lovers rejoice! Turns out coffee is very effective in curbing asthma attacks.
- Mustard oil –
Surveys have proved that rubbing mustard oil onto the chest can reduce the symptoms of asthma.
- Essential oils –
Since strong smells can trigger an asthma attack, try oils with mild essence. Inhaling the smell of essential oils extracted from eucalyptus, lavender or basil can help relax the muscles of your airways.
Asthma need not weigh you down. It is a serious disorder, but one that you can control with a little bit of caution and discipline.