Asthma is a condition where the airway in humans constricts, gets inflamed and is lined with mucus. The condition though generally associated with humans, is also being controversially diagnosed in house pets.
Asthma attacks are triggered by exposure to environmental stimulants like cold or warm or moist air, perfume or exertion/emotional stress. In the case of children, it is observed that the common triggers are viral illnesses.
The airway narrowing condition in asthma causes breathlessness, wheezing and coughing. This airway constriction is eased with the help of bronchodilators. It is common between episodes for the patients to feel well or exhibit mild symptoms.
The symptoms of mild to life threatening asthma can be controlled with a combination of medication and a change in the immediate environment. Research reveals that in the developed world, this killer is affecting up to one in four urban children!
Asthma is characterized by chronic respiratory impairment, episodic symptoms triggered by upper respiratory infection, stress, airborne allergens and air pollutants.
An acute exacerbation exhibits clinical hallmarks such as shortness of breath and wheezing and in the late stages of an asthma attack, the air motion may be so impaired that no wheezing may even be heard. If the patient coughs, clear sputum is produced.
The signs of an asthmatic episode include prolonged expiration, a rapid heart rate, lung sounds that are audible only through a stethoscope, pulse that is weaker during inhalation and stronger during exhalation and over-inflation of the chest cavity.
During a serious asthma attack, the sternocleidomastoid and scalene muscles of the neck are exerted causing the asthma sufferer to turn blue due to the lack of oxygen. The patient can also suffer the loss of consciousness and just before the loss of consciousness, the patient feels numbness in the limbs and experiences sweaty palms.
Asthma is caused by the interaction of genetic and environmental factors. The interaction of these factors influences how severe a person’s asthma is and the probability of how well the patient is likely to respond to medication.
It is observed that asthma prevalence has increased in developed countries with the increase in the use of antibiotics, c-sections and cleaning products. All of these negatively affect exposure to beneficial bacteria and other immune system modulators.
There are a number of environmental risk factors associated with asthma. These include traffic pollution, high ozone levels, tobacco smoke and maternal cigarette smoking, viral respiratory infections at an early age, use of antibiotics early in life, caesarean sections and psychological stress.
Many genes are related to the immune system and modulating inflammation. However, research results have not been consistent among all of the populations and hence, it is deduced that the genes are not associated with asthma under every condition.
Inflamed airways and bronchoconstriction in asthma as a result of the inflammatory response cause wheezing. During an asthma episode, the inflamed airways react to environmental triggers and produce excess mucus, which makes it difficult to breathe.
Stimulus to a trigger include waste from household pests, pollen and spores, indoor air pollutants like perfumed products, soap, dishwashing and laundry detergent, fabric softener, paper tissues and towels, hairspray and gel, cosmetics, facial sun cream, air freshener and products such as oil-based paint, medication like asprin and beta blockers, food allergies, presence of nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide etc.
Hormonal changes in women associated with the menstrual cycle can worsen asthma. Some women experience their asthma improving during pregnancy. Emotional stress can also affect breathing temporarily and so can cold weather and high altitude.
It is recognized that patients who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea and bronchial asthma, often improve when the former is diagnosed and treated.
Asthma is cured with the reversibility of the condition that occurs either spontaneously or with treatment. A physician diagnoses asthma on the basis of the patient’s clinical history and examination. The measurement of the airway function is possible for adults. Diagnosis in children is based on analysis of the medical history and subsequent improvement.
With the proper use of prevention drugs, asthmatics can avoid the complications. However, it is observed that asthmatics stop taking preventive medication when they feel fine and this then results in further attacks.