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It is estimated that by 2025, a whopping 100 million people across the world will suffer from asthma. Unfortunately, asthma is a condition for which there is no 'cure'. The only option is to accept the fact that you have to live with it and live fully! Understanding the condition can certainly help both the patient and the caregiver. Here is a megaguide that'll tell you everything you need to know about asthma.
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.
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.
Read more about causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of asthma.
Asthma is caused due to inflammation in the airways. During an asthma attack, the muscles surrounding the airways become tight and the lining of the air passages become swollen. This reduces the amount of air that can pass by.
Asthma triggers can be broadly categorized into:
1.Specific (Allergens and Irritants): In sensitive people, asthma symptoms is triggered by breathing in allergy-causing substances like:
Airborne irritants: Any substances you breathe in can become an allergen. These might include traffic fumes, animal dander (from dogs and cats), house dust mites, pollen, mold, industrial fumes (especially those containing sulphur dioxide), household chemicals (air fresheners and aerosols), perfumed cosmetics, scented flowers, etc.
Respiratory infections: Viral or bacterial respiratory infections that trigger asthma attack are common cold, flu, bronchitis and sinus infections. They are a common cause of asthma especially in children.
Food and food additives: Some of the most common foods associated with allergic symptoms are eggs, Cow's milk, Peanuts, Soy, Wheat, Fish, Shrimp, etc. Food preservatives Sulfite additives like sodium bisulfite, potassium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, potassium metabisulfite and sodium sulfite can also trigger asthma.
Tobacco smoke: Cigarette smoke contains different chemicals and gases that can irritate the lungs. Smoking increases your chance of getting asthma. Symptoms such as coughing and wheezing become worse when you smoke with asthma. Babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy have worse lung function and increased risk of wheezing.
Heart burn: Severe heartburn, known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and asthma often go hand-in-hand. The stomach acids reflux into the esophagus because the valve between the esophagus and stomach does not function properly. If the acid reaches into the airways, the irritation and inflammation can trigger an asthma attack.
Drugs: Certain prescription and over-the-counter drugs like aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen and beta blockers) may trigger asthma attacks.
Hormonal: In many women with asthma, the rise in progesterone and sharp decline in oestrogen just before menstruation increases the risk for asthma attacks by triggering bronchoconstriction. In case of men, low testosterone levels cause asthma because testosterone reduces the conversion of DHEAS (dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate) to DHEA. Decreased DHEA is believed to be the source of asthma.
Alcohol: alcohol can cause asthma to worsen. One possible reason could be that alcohol causes various degrees of acid reflux. Another reason is sensitivity to sulfites used mostly in wines and beers that can increase symptoms in people with asthma.
2. Non-specific: Emotional Stress: extreme emotions such as anxiety, anger and fear induce stress which in turn changes heart-rate and breathing patterns. There is rapid, shallow breathing causing constriction of airways and this consequently leads to an asthmatic attack.
Most people with asthma have attacks separated by symptom-free periods. You may not have any asthma attack symptoms for weeks to months. Symptoms include:
If you or anyone you know experiences the symptoms below, it is best to visit a doctor immidiately:
1. Asthma patients beware, Diwali is here: Doctors
2. 10 facts about asthma you should know
3. Asthma: All you need to know
Asthma is diagnosed based on the patient's medical history, physical examination and laboratory test results. Your doctor will take a detailed medical history and ask you about your asthma symptoms and allergy triggers. Your doctor may use one or more of the following asthma tests to diagnose asthma, to assess your breathing and to monitor the effectiveness of asthma treatment:
The aim of asthma treatment is to avoid the substances that trigger your symptoms and control airway inflammation. There are two basic kinds of medication for treating asthma:
2. Quick-relief drugs: These drugs are mainly used during an emergency. They are normally prescribed by a pulmonologist and the patient is told how to use them in case the need arises.
A severe asthma attack (status asthmaticus) may not respond quickly to routine treatment with asthma inhalers.
Please do note that all of the above mentioned drugs require a prescription from your asthma doctor.
What are the alternative treatments for Asthma?
Homeopathy aims at strengthening your immune system so that gradually you will need decreased asthma medication and eventually you may not need any.Some of the popular remedies are:
Some of the natural herbs used to cure asthma are Mullein, licorice, turmeric, thyme, black pepper, flax seed, antalkali ginger, clove, manna and myrrh. Massaging mustard oil with camphor over the chest loosens the mucus and helps in easy breathing during asthma attack. Inhaling steam with a few caraway seeds added to boiling water helps in dilation of bronchial passage. Honey is one of the most effective remedies used for treatment of asthma A few common medicines as suggested in Ayurveda are:
2. Diagnosis and treatment of Asthma
Knowing what triggers the attacks and avoiding those triggers can certainly help in making the condition more bearable. Here are 10 triggers for asthma you should stay away from:
Dust, due to its allergy-inducing properties, causes havoc for asthmatics. Therefore it's absolutely essential that very high levels of hygiene are maintained and that rooms are kept dust-free. This can be achieved by thoroughly vacuuming the entire room including every nook and cranny.
Pollen from flowers is a known trigger for asthma attacks and one will do well to avoid them. Growing plants indoors can be dangerous too, since they can be a source of mold which triggers asthma. To avoid the formation of molds, make sure not to overwater plants, keep them in a sunny place and remove dead parts as soon as they appear.
Animal lovers are going to the find the going tough. Research suggests that contact with cats or dogs is extremely dangerous for asthmatics. Not to mention the fact that small pieces of fur, particles of hair, saliva and even skin are all known asthma triggers. Even if the pet is not physically around you, their fur/hair might be in your environment and may pose risks.
The smoke and aromas given off when cooking can be a major irritant to asthma sufferers so take steps to reduce such problems. If a proper exhaust fan or chimney is not available, then ensure there is an open window in the kitchen to help the cooking smells to escape outside.
Cigarette smoke contains different chemicals and gases that can irritate the lungs. Smoking increases your chance of getting asthma. Symptoms such as coughing and wheezing become worse when you smoke. Babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy have worse lung function and increased risk of wheezing.
Certain prescription and over-the-counter drugs like aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen and beta blockers) may trigger asthma attacks. Whenever a doctor is prescribing you medicines, make sure you tell him/her that you suffer from asthma.
Exercise-induced asthma is a type of asthma triggered by vigorous or prolonged exercise or physical exertion. Narrowing of airway begins five to 20 minutes after exercise begins, making it difficult to catch your breath.
Normally, the air we take in is first warmed and moistened by the nasal passages. But during exercise people tend to breathe through their mouths thus inhaling colder and drier air. In exercise-induced asthma, the muscle bands around the airways are sensitive to these changes in temperature and humidity. They react by contracting, which narrows the airway. This results in symptoms of exercise-induced asthma.
Hot and humid weather or extremely cold weather causes asthma symptoms to flare-up. Even though weather is not in our control, asthmatic patients should ensure that they do not expose themselves to varying temperatures in a short time.
Extreme emotions such as anxiety, anger and fear induce stress which in turn changes heart-rate and breathing patterns. There is rapid, shallow breathing causing constriction of airways and this consequently leads to an asthmatic attack.
Some of the most common foods associated with allergic symptoms are eggs, cow's milk, peanuts, soy, wheat, fish, shrimp, etc. Food preservatives like sodium bisulfite, potassium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, potassium metabisulfite and sodium sulfite can also trigger asthma.
Besides avoiding these triggers, you should also do the following things to manage asthma.
Take regular medications. The control medications should be taken every day to maintain the airways. They prevent an attack of asthma. They maintain the normal diameter of the airways and control airway inflammation. Quit smoking. It can undo the effect of any medicine you are taking.
Monitor Lung Function regularly. Lung function usually decreases a couple of days prior to an asthma attack. A peak flow meter is a simple device to your lung function. It measures how quickly you can move air out of your lungs. It helps you see if an attack is coming and when medication is needed or other action needs to be taken. Peak flow values of 50% 80% of your best results are a sign of a moderate asthma attack. Values below 50% are a sign of a severe attack.
Read more about causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of lung disease.
What should I do when I have an Asthma attack?
During an acute attack of Asthma:
1. What can I do to prevent my son from getting asthma attacks?
2. 8 steps to manage asthma in children better
3. Living with asthma, not an issue anymore
4. 10 asthma triggers you should avoid
5. A guide to exercising with asthma
6. Asthma: Self care and prevention
1.Decreased quality of life decreased ability to exercise and take part in other activities, fatigue, underperformance or absence from work, psychological problems including stress, anxiety and depression.
2.Respiratory complications asthma can lead to a number of serious respiratory complications, like pneumonia (infection of the lungs), a collapse of part or all of thelung and respiratory failure. In acute respiratory failure, the bronchial tubes are completely blocked. Oxygen level in the blood becomes dangerously low, or carbon dioxidelevel becomes dangerously high. Such patients have to beimmediately shifted on ventilators to avoid fatality.
3.In pregnant women asthma complications may include early labour, hypertension, gestational diabetes and haemorrhage. Asthma also puts their babies at risk of lower birth weight and breathing disorders
4. Status asthmaticus (severe asthma attacks that do not respond to treatment).
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