Facts about Asthma

May 7 is World Asthma Day.

Suffocation, a feeling that most of us fear is a common occurrence in the lives of people suffering from asthma. With the diseases debilitating the lives of many in our country, it is time we took control. Here are 10 facts about asthma you should know:

1.  Asthma is a condition where a person finds it difficult to breathe because the tubes  that take air into the lungs swell up, making it difficult to breathe. This reaction is caused because the airway comes in contact with an asthma trigger (an allergen) that causes it to swell up.

2. At present 25% of the Indian population suffers from allergies and 5% of those people suffer from allergies that lead to asthma*. Although the exact percentage of people suffering from the disease is unknown, it is estimated that by the year 2025 an additional 100 million people will be asthmatic world over**.

3. Common symptoms of asthma are coughing which gets worse at night, wheezing (a whistling sound from the chest when the person breathes), chest tightness and shortness of breath.

Read more about causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of asthma.

4. There are two types of asthma, depending on the type of trigger – extrinsic and intrinsic asthma. Extrinsic asthma is an immune response to an external allergen such as pollen, animal dander, dust etc. Intrinsic asthma is caused due to inhaling certain chemical agents such as cigarette smoke, paint vapours, etc. In some cases it may also be worsened by a chest infection, stress, laughter etc. Some drugs like aspirin and other NSAIDs are also known to cause asthma attacks.

5.The most common allergens that cause asthma are pollen, dust, pollution like smoke from vehicles, animal dander, certain smells like that of diesel and petrol combustion, peeling paint and fungus or mould in enclosed areas. There are mainly two types of reactions a delayed hypersensitive response (where the person experiences symptoms after a long period of time) and an instant hypersensitive response ( where the person immediately develops symptoms to the allergen) .

6. A person can develop asthma at any age, and some researchers believe that it may even be a genetically inherited trait. Young children can suffer from mild asthma, which usually progresses to a more severe form later in life. Research has shown that exposure to environmental allergens combined with airway obstructions at an early age, can lead to severe asthma in adulthood. In rare cases some women suffer from adult-onset asthma. This is a condition that is not only specific to women , but is seen largely in them due to fluctuating levels of the hormone oestrogen. Doctors have found that women going through either emotional stress or menopause, experience peaks of estrogen levels in their body which leads to the swelling up of the airways leading to sudden and severe asthma attacks. This phenomenon can occurs in women who have never had asthma all their lives.

7. There are a number of ways to treat the symptoms of asthma – allopathic and natural remedies. In the allopathic method the most effective way to treat asthma is to use inhaled medication. There are two types of medicines available — relievers and preventersRelievers are used in cases of emergency, and are quick acting agents. They are inhaled and help the surrounding muscle relax, allowing the person to breath normally again. Preventers are steroid-based medicines that help asthmatics by reducing the sensitivity of their airways to allergens. They are slow acting and help reduce the number of asthma attacks a person has. Preventers contain corticosteroids. Most people believe that taking steroids can be harmful to the body, but that is not always true. Unlike other steroid-based medications, preventers are inhaled directly into the lungs, thereby allowing very little of the steroid into the body itself.

8. Apart from the traditional inhalers, there are steroid-based tablets that one can take to control asthma. These tablets usually take longer to react in case of an emergency since they are ingested and not inhaled.  Havingsteroid based tablets to control asthma gives the patient a 50 times greater dose of corticosteroids. Long term use of tablets have serious side effects such as osteoporosis, diabetes, bruising easily, cataract, heart burn and acidity.

9.It is a common myth that a person cannot die because of asthma that is not true. According to the WHO of the 300 million people who suffer  from asthma 25,000 of them died due to the disorder in 2005**.

10. Asthma can be prevented. Some of the most common methods is to first identify the causative agent of the asthma. The next step is to follow a desensitization pattern. This means helping the body slowly reduce its sensitivity to the particular allergen with controlled exposure to it.  Another way to prevent the disease is to make a few lifestyle changes, like maintaining a healthy lifestyle with a healthy diet and some form of exercise. Lastly, it is important for a patient to follow their doctor’s instructions regarding schedule regarding medication and regular checkups.

 *Source: Asthma Society of India

** Source: South Asia network for chronic disease, New Delhi


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  • jeff

    It’s amazing you don’t mention asthma at birth, and you seem to think it is only mild in children. I’m here to inform YOU are wrong on both cases. I and several other children were at a school for asthmatics . Which I’m sure you nothing about. I could cont. and give you a link but you are getting big money for you research.