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What is it

Asthma is a chronic, yet reversible, lung disease that constricts the bronchial tubes (breathing passages). It affects an estimated 15 million Americans, including close to 5 million children. It’s believed that many more have undetected asthma and go untreated.

Although asthma frequently begins in childhood, with half of all cases first occurring in children under the age of 10, it’s no longer considered a disease that children “outgrow” when they become teens. Asthma can strike at any age and any time, causing even the most fit person to wheeze, cough, and gasp. These attacks can last for anywhere from a few minutes to more than a day. During an asthma episode, the breathing passages are narrowed in three ways: the muscles surrounding the bronchial tubes constrict, the lining of the tubes (mucosa) swells, and there is increased mucus secretion. In all instances breathing becomes very difficult.

Experts now believe that asthma is an inflammatory disease that develops within the first few years of life. The air passages of people who have asthma, even those who suffer their first acute attack long after juvenile, gradually become swollen. This causes them to be swollen and to respond powerfully to inhale irritants like tobacco smoke, dust, air pollution, pollen and cat dander. Even changes in weather can trigger an asthma episode. The main goal of asthma treatment is now to reduce this air- way inflammation.

Patterns of asthma attacks differ from person to person, with symptoms ranging from mild and intermittent shortness of breath and chest tightness, which require quick-relief medication to severe and persistent, which require long-term control medications to keep the air- ways open. It’s critical that individuals understand the disease and their own symptoms and triggers. Asthma attacks may be predictable, occurring, for example, whenever a person comes into contact with a cat or conducts strenuous exercise in cold weather. Conversely, the attacks may come on unexpectedly. Some people experience seasonal variations; some have nighttime episodes; some have continuous symptoms. Severe cases may warrant emergency hospitalization.

Asthma may stop on its own or with medication. Once an episode has subsided, breathing returns to normal. To date, there is no known cure for the disorder, but with new medications and techniques it can be managed to the point that most people with asthma can expect to have few or no symptoms or complications.

The number of Americans who have asthma has grown steadily in the past several years, but even more alarming has been the death rate, which has risen sharply since 1979. The disease now kills more than 5,000 Americans each year.

No one knows the reason for the increase, but some researchers suggest it’s the greater amount of time people now spend in workplaces and tightly sealed homes where they are exposed to dust mites, pet dander, and other allergens. Most of these deaths are preventable if the asthma is properly diagnosed and treated.


Mild symptoms

Shortness of breath or breathing difficulty; coughing, wheezing, or rapid, shallow breathing that’s eased by sitting up; coughing, especially at night, possibly with production of a thick, clear, or yellow sputum; a whistling sound when breathing; a sense of suffocation; painless tightness in the chest.

More severe symptoms

Inability to speak more than a few words without gasping for breath; clenched or constricted neck muscles; rapid pulse.

Emergency symptoms

Bluish tinge to the fingertips, lips, or face; extremely labored breathing; profound feeling of exhaustion.

What causes it

Asthma can be either extrinsic or intrinsic. Extrinsic asthma is caused by an overreaction or hypersensitivity to certain external triggers. These triggers aren’t obvious with intrinsic asthma.

The triggers that cause extrinsic asthma episodes are many and different. They contain viral respiratory infections; mold, exposure to pollen and house-dust mites, animal dander and cockroach (more than half the people with asthma have allergies); exposure to chemicals or allergens; exposure to tobacco smoke, hair-sprays, perfumes, vapors,  gases and aerosols, air pollutants ; emotional expressions such as anger, fear,  crying, frustration and laughing; medications such as aspirin, food additives, and preservatives; and changes in weather, humidity, and cold air.

It’s ironic that aerobic exercise, which helps strengthen the body and makes it more efficient in its use of oxygen, may also be a major trigger of asthma. This type of asthma, called exercise-induced asthma, or EIA, affects 1 in 10 people (60 to 80 percent of people with asthma). Because exertion soon triggers an uncomfortable attack, many people with asthma are afraid to exercise.

In cases of intrinsic asthma, no external allergen can be identified. However, a severe respiratory infection, such as bronchitis, generally precedes an intrinsic asthma episode. The asthma can then be serious by emotional stress, changes in temperature, fatigue and  pollution.

What if you do nothing

Although there is no cure for asthma, trying to ignore asthma symptoms, however mild, is a mistake because the breathing difficulties it causes will prevent you from living a full and active life. While seldom fatal, asthma is a chronic disease that needs constant monitoring and medical attention.

Home remedies

If you have asthma, you need to work with a physician to manage and control your condition. There is no known cure for asthma, but most asthma can be controlled by a two-pronged strategy aimed at preventing acute episodes and stopping those that do occur. In addition to medications and other measures you will obtain from your doctor, take the following steps.

Stay calm

Panic may deteriorate your condition throughout an asthma episode.

Breathe acutely

Whenever you experience asthma, sit upright and lean frontward, taking in deep, regular breaths.

Avoid causes

Staying away from substances that cause asthma attacks is considered the best treatment.

Monitor your lung capacity

A peak-flow meter is a hand-held device that measures how fast you can blow air out of your lungs; it should be an indispensable part of your treatment program. Meanwhile peak airflow often drops as much as a day or two just before actual asthma symptoms become thoughtful, consistent peak-flow testing will help you measure the harshness of your asthma.


Identify- your asthma triggers

Keep a diary and note when your episodes occur and what seems to trigger them. Include emotional and situational factors as well as environmental stimuli and foods. Check at home and at work. Common triggers include pollen, aspirin, cat dander, chocolate, milk, nuts, fish, and dust mites; avoid as many of these as possible.

Don’t smoke

If you do, quit. Avoid secondary smoke as well.

Vacuum regularly

Reducing the amount of dust in your home will ease symptoms. Get rid of (and avoid buying) carpets that are difficult to clean.

Drink plenty of water

You will need at least eight glasses of Liquid a day to help loosen air-way secretions and maintain hydration.

Take precautions in cold weather

Cold air can trigger an asthma attack. In cold weather cover your nose and mouth with a scarf in order to filter, humidify, and warm the air that you breathe in.

Exercise regularly

By staving physically fit, you will strengthen your body, especially your lungs. Water aerobics and swimming are two good choices since these exercises will allow you to be breathing humidified air. If a particular exercise triggers an asthma episode, talk with your physician about adjusting or changing your medication.

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