What is Asthma?


Asthma is a disease affecting the airways that carry air to and from your lungs. People who suffer from this chronic condition (long-lasting or recurrent) are said to be asthmatic.

The inside walls of an asthmatic's airways are swollen or inflamed. This swelling or inflammation makes the airways extremely sensitive to irritations and increases your susceptibility to an allergic reaction.
As inflammation causes the airways to become narrower, less air can pass through them, both to and from the lungs. Symptoms of the narrowing include wheezing (a hissing sound while breathing), chest tightness, breathing problems, and coughing. Asthmatics usually experience these symptoms most frequently during the night and the early morning.

Is Asthma curable? Asthma is an incurable illness. However, with good treatment and management there is no reason why a person with asthma cannot live a normal and active life.

What is an Asthma Attack?

An asthma episode, or an asthma attack, is when symptoms are worse than usual. They can come on suddenly and can be mild, moderate or severe. What happens during an asthma attack?
  • The muscles around your airways tighten up, making the airway smaller.
  • Less air is able to flow through the airway.
  • Inflammation of the airways increases, making the airway even smaller.
  • More mucus is produced in the airways, blocking the flow of air even more.

Asthma attacks can be mild, moderate, severe and very severe. At onset, an asthma attack does allow enough air to get into the lungs, but it does not let the carbon dioxide leave the lungs at a fast enough rate. Carbon dioxide - poisonous if not expelled - can build up in the lungs during a prolonged attack, lowering the amount of oxygen getting into your bloodstream.

How is Asthma treated?

Asthma is more controlled than it is treated. Good asthma control includes
  • Regular doctor check-ups
  • Taking preventative medication when required
  • Avoiding triggers whenever possible
  • Maintaining health diet and exercise regimen

What Causes Asthma?

Allergies
Almost all asthma sufferers have allergies. In fact, over 25% of people who have hay fever (allergic rhinitis) also develop asthma. Common sources of indoor allergens include animal proteins (mostly cat and dog allergens), dust mites, cockroaches, and fungi. Tobacco Smoke
Tobacco smoke has been linked to a higher risk of asthma as well as a higher risk of death due to asthma, wheezing, and respiratory infections. Environmental Factors
Allergic reactions and asthma symptoms are often the result of indoor air pollution from mould or noxious fumes from household cleaners and paints. Other indoor environmental factors associated with asthma include nitrogen oxide from gas stoves. In fact, people who cook with gas are more likely to have symptoms such as wheezing, breathlessness, asthma attacks, and hay fever. Pollution, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, ozone, cold temperatures, and high humidity have all been shown to trigger asthma in some individuals.
Weather changes have also been known to stimulate asthma attacks. Cold air can lead to airway congestion, bronchoconstriction (airways constriction), secretions, and decreased mucociliary clearance (another type of airway inefficiency). In some populations, humidity causes breathing difficulties as well.

Obesity

Overweight adults - those with a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 30 - are 38% more likely to have asthma compared to adults who are not overweight. Obese adults - those with a BMI of 30 or greater - have twice the risk of asthma. According to some researchers, the risk may be greater for nonallergic asthma than allergic asthma.

Pregnancy

Babies born by Caesarean sections have a 20% increase in asthma prevalence compared to babies born by vaginal birth. Research has also shown that premature birth is a risk factor for developing asthma.

Stress

People who undergo stress have higher asthma rates. Part of this may be explained by increases in asthma-related behaviors such as smoking that are encouraged by stress. However, recent research has suggested that the immune system is modified by stress as well.

Genes

It is possible that some 100 genes are linked to asthma - 25 of which have been associated with separate populations as of 2005. Mom and Dad may be partially to blame for asthma, since three-fifths of all asthma cases are hereditary. The Centers for Disease Control (USA) say that having a parent with asthma increases a person's risk by three to six times.

Atopy

Atopy - such as eczema (atopic dermatitis), allergic rhinitis (hay fever), allergic conjunctivitis (an eye condition) - is a general class of allergic hypersensitivity that affects different parts of the body that do not come in contact with allergens. Atopy is a risk factor for developing asthma. Some 40% to 50% of children with atopic dermatitis also develop asthma, and it is probable that children with atopic dermatitis have more severe and persistent asthma as adults.

By CHAMP staff
Resources
Medical News Today
Asthma
Asthma Attack