Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the airways, the tubes that carry air into your lungs and these airways become narrow and swell, making it hard for you to breathe while causing wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. People who experience this chronic condition of Asthma are said to be “Asthmatic”. It has become a major problem for most of the people while affecting their daily activities and may also lead to Asthma attack, in which the symptoms become worse. Although, there is no complete cure of Asthma but you can control its symptoms through a proper professional medical consultation with the specialist.
Here’s what you need to know about signs & symptoms, causes, triggers, risk factors, diagnosis and treatment of Asthma:
What are the symptoms of Asthma?
The symptoms of Asthma vary from person to person. You may have infrequent Asthma attacks or symptoms occur frequently or have these at certain times such as during exercising. Common signs and symptoms of Asthma include:
- Pain or tightness in chest
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing & wheezing (it is high-pitched whistling sound when you exhale)
- Trouble sleeping due to wheezing, coughing & shortness of breath
- Wheezing or coughing attacks worsen due to respiratory virus such as flu or cold
The signs and symptoms may become severe, which include:
- Above mentioned symptoms become more frequent and bothersome
- Increased difficult breathing
- A need to use quick-relief inhaler more frequently
Severe Asthma attack can be life-endangering so you need to seek immediate medical treatment when the symptoms become severe, which include:
- Shortness of breath or wheezing rapidly worsens
- No improvement in symptoms even after using quick-relief inhaler
- Have shortness of breath especially when you are doing nominal physical activity
What is Asthma attack? What happens during Asthma attack?
You may experience Asthma attack when the symptoms become worse than usual and it can occur suddenly with the intensity of mild, moderate or severe. During an Asthma attack, the muscles around airways tighten causing airways to narrow, less air is able to easily flow through these narrowed airways, inflammation of airways increases and more mucus is produced by membranes which sticks to airways lining and blocks the flow of air even more.
What causes Asthma?
It is still not known what actually causes Asthma but the Asthma experts believed that certain genetic (inherited) and environmental factors can cause Asthma.
Medical practitioners have identified that there are two main conditions that cause the occurrence of Asthma symptoms: inflammation & constriction of airways. Let’s see how these conditions cause Asthma:
Inflammation of airways: The inside walls of airways of Asthmatic become swollen or inflamed and this inflammation makes the airways very much sensitive to irritants and various Asthma triggers and increases your susceptibility to get an allergic reaction. The swelling of the airways makes them narrow creating difficulty for the air to normally pass through them and you feel difficulty while breathing normally.
Constriction of airways: When the inflamed or swollen airways come into contact with any trigger then the muscles around airways tighten causing them to become narrower. This results in having a tight feeling in your chest, like a rope is being tightened around the chest. Moreover, the membranes inside airways secrets excess mucus which can stick in narrowed airways causing even more trouble with breathing.
What are Asthma triggers?
The exposure to different irritants and substances can triggers the signs and symptoms of Asthma and these depend on individual conditions and vary from person to person. Understanding these triggers greatly help in managing and controlling the symptoms of Asthma. Common Asthma triggers are:
- Pollen, dust mites, mold spores (type of fungus), pet hair and dander (a material that shed from body of animals), particles of cockroaches’ waste
- Changes in weather, particularly cold air
- Respiratory infections such as common cold
- Physical activity
- Air pollutants such as smoke
- Stress and strong emotions
- Allergic reaction to sulfites and preservatives added to foods and drinks
- Acid reflux, a condition in which stomach acid blows back into esophagus and throat
- Certain medications, which include aspirin or beta blockers
What factors increase the risk of developing Asthma?
The risk factors of Asthma include:
- Family history (having a parent or sibling with Asthma)
- Gender & age (Asthma is more common in children than adults. Boys are more likely to suffer from it than girls. Chances are equal for adult men and women)
- Having other allergic conditions such as Atopic Dermatitis (inflammation of skin) or Allergic Rhinitis (or hay fever, a condition having symptoms same as common cold)
- Exposure to second-hand smoke & exhaust fumes
- Constant exposure to air pollution
- Exposure to certain chemicals used in hairdressing, farming and manufacturing
- Being obese
How Asthma is diagnosed?
At first, the doctor performs physical exam and asks you about your symptoms and other health conditions to rule out other possible medical conditions such as respiratory infection or obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
After that the doctor performs various other tests and exams, which include:
Lung function tests: These tests measures how much air moves in and out when you breathe. These two tests are:
- Spirometry: This test is used to measure the narrowing of airways by checking amount of air you exhale after taking a deep breath and how fast you breathe out.
- Peak Flow: This test is performed by using a peak flow meter, a device that measures how hard a patient can breathe out. If the readings of peak flow meter are lower than usual, it indicates that lungs are not functioning properly and Asthma is getting worse.
The lung function tests are usually performed before and after taking a medication called as bronchodilator, such as albuterol that opens the airways. If the function of lungs improves after taking the medicine then it’s likely that the patient has Asthma.
How Asthma is treated?
The treatment of Asthma includes identification of your triggers, taking steps to avoid the identified triggers and keeping a track record of your breathing to make sure whether the Asthma medicines are controlling the symptoms.
The prescription of medications depends on various factors, which include your age, symptoms, triggers and what works best to keep your Asthma under control. Long-term medications reduce inflammation in the airways and quick-relief inhalers quickly open the swollen airways that make breathing difficult. In some cases, the doctor also recommends allergy medications.
Long term medications for Asthma control: These are the main part of Asthma treatment and are taken on daily basis according to the prescription of the doctor. These medications help to control the symptoms of Asthma constantly on daily basis while reducing the chances of Asthma attack. Various types of long term medications include:
- Inhaled corticosteroids: These anti-inflammatory drugs have low-risk of side effects and are safe to use for long term.
- Leukotriene modifiers: These oral medications relief symptoms of Asthma for 24 hours.
- Long-acting beta agonists: These inhaled medications open the swollen airways and are taken in combination with inhaled corticosteroid.
- Combination inhalers: These medications contain long-acting beta agonist and a corticosteroid.
- Theophylline: It is a pill recommended on daily basis that helps keep the airways open by relaxing the muscles around them. But now, it is not used as often as used in the past.
Quick relief medications: These medications are needed to rapidly relief the symptoms for short time period during Asthma attack. A quick-relief inhaler such as albuterol is recommended in case of Asthma attack. Various types of quick relief medications include:
- Short-acting beta agonists: These quick relief inhaled bronchodilators act quickly within minutes to ease the symptoms during Asthma attack. These medicines can be taken by using portable, hand-held inhaler or nebulizer, which is a machine that converts Asthma medications to fine mist, which can be inhaled through mouthpiece or face mask.
- Ipratropium (Atrovent): It works quickly while relaxing your airways to ease the breathing.
- Oral and intravenous corticosteroids: These medications reduce the inflammation of airways and they are only used for short-time period to treat severe Asthma symptoms.
Allergy medications: These help in case if Asthma is triggered by allergies. These include:
- Allergy shots (immunotherapy): These medications gradually reduce the reaction of your immune system to specific allergens.
- Omalizumab (Xolair): This medication is given as an injection every 2-4 weeks and the doctor specifically prescribes it for those having allergies and severe Asthma.
Consult specialists at Island Medical Consultants in NYC:
The board certified physicians at Island Medical Consultants work together to provide you the best Asthma treatment plan for patients living in Staten Island, NYC tailored according to the conditions and needs of each patient. The doctors have spent time researching immune system and exploring causes of Asthma with the goal to provide best treatments and an ultimate cure to the patients. The doctors give a comprehensive care by creating an action plan that helps you to learn about using Asthma medications, controlling Asthma triggers and symptoms and monitoring your condition.