Asthma is a chronic lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways. It causes recurring periods of wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing. The coughing often occurs at night or early in the morning, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and can affect people of all ages, but it most often starts in childhood.
In the United States, more than 22 million people are known to have asthma. Nearly 6 million of these people are children. The airways are tubes that carry air into and out of your lungs, according to NHLBI. People who have asthma have inflamed airways. This makes the airways swollen and very sensitive.
They tend to react strongly to certain substances that are breathed in. When the airways react, the muscles around them tighten. This causes the airways to narrow, and less air flows to your lungs. The swelling also can worsen, making the airways even narrower. Cells in the airways may make more mucus than normal.
Mucus is a sticky, thick liquid that can further narrow your airways. This chain reaction can result in showing symptoms. Symptoms can happen each time the airways are irritated. Sometimes symptoms are mild and go away on their own or after minimal treatment. At other times, symptoms continue to get worse.
When symptoms get more intense and/or additional symptoms appear, this is an asthma attack, also called flare-ups or exacerbations. It's important to treat symptoms when you first notice them. This will help prevent the symptoms from worsening and causing a severe asthma attack. Severe attacks may require emergency care, and they can cause death.
No one really knows the causes of asthma. What we do know is that it is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways. The causes of symptoms can vary for different people. Still, one thing is consistent, when airways come into contact with an trigger, the airways become inflamed, narrow, and fill with mucus.When you have an attack, spasms of the muscles around the airways, inflammation and swelling of the mucosal membrane lining the airways, and excessive amounts of mucus contribute to airway narrowing.
This makes airway resistance increase and the work of breathing more difficult, causing shortness of breath, cough, and wheezing. You may have coughing with asthma because of the irritation inside the airway and the body's attempt to clean out the accumulations of thick mucus. So why do you have it and your friend doesn't? No one really knows for sure.
We do know that allergies play a role in many people with asthma but not in all, according to WebMD. As with allergy, you can blame your family history, as there is a strong genetic component. If you or a loved one it, it's important to understand the many triggers. Once you identify and reduce exposure to the specific triggers or causes , you can take an active role in controlling it and reducing the frequency of your attacks.
For example, if you find that allergies your cause, you may have allergic asthma. Being aware of allergies and avoiding them can significantly help in asthma prevention by reducing the frequency or severity of attacks. Or if environmental pollution seems to cause your asthma, it's important to stay indoors during periods of heavy air pollution. According to MedicineNet.com, Asthma is now the most common chronic illness in children, affecting one in every 15.
In North America, 5% of adults are also afflicted. In all, there are about 1 million Canadians and 15 million Americans who suffer from this disease. The number of new cases and the yearly rate of hospitalization have increased about 30% over the past 20 years. Even with advances in treatment, deaths among young people have more that doubled.
There are about 5,000 deaths annually from asthma in the U.S. and about 500 deaths per year in Canada. Non-Allergic asthma is triggered by factors not related to allergies. Non-allergic asthma is characterized by airway obstruction and inflammation that is at least partially reversible with medication, however symptoms are NOT associated with an allergic reaction.
Many of the symptoms of allergic and nonallergic variations are the same (coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath or rapid breathing, and chest tightness), but the non-allergic form is triggered by other factors such as anxiety, stress, exercise, cold air, dry air, hyperventilation, smoke, viruses or other irritants. In non-allergic asthma, the immune system is not involved in the reaction.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), Asthma is commonly divided into two types: allergic (extrinsic) and non-allergic (intrinsic). There is still much research that needs to be done to fully understand how to prevent, treat and cure this disease. But, with proper management, people can live healthy and active lives.
Allergic (extrinsic) asthma is characterized by symptoms that are triggered by an allergic reaction. And, allergic asthma is airway obstruction and inflammation that is partially reversible with medication. Allergic asthma is the most common form, affecting over 50% of the 20 million asthma sufferers. Non-Allergic (intrinsic) asthma is triggered by factors not related to allergies.
Like allergic, non-allergic asthma is characterized by airway obstruction and inflammation that is at least partially reversible with medication, however symptoms in this type of asthma are NOT associated with an allergic reaction. Many of the symptoms of allergic and non-allergic asthma are the same (coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath or rapid breathing, and chest tightness), but non-allergic asthma is triggered by other factors such as anxiety, stress, exercise, cold air, dry air, hyperventilation, smoke, viruses or other irritants.
In non-allergic asthma, the immune system is not involved in the reaction. Inflammation, or swelling, is a normal response of the body to injury or infection, according to MedicineNet. The blood flow increases to the affected site and cells rush in and ward off the offending problem. The healing process has begun. Usually, when the healing is complete, the inflammation subsides. Sometimes, the healing process causes scarring. The central issue in asthma, however, is that the inflammation does not resolve completely on its own.
In the short term, this results in recurrent "attacks" of asthma. In the long term, it may lead to permanent thickening of the bronchial walls, called airway "remodeling." If this occurs, the narrowing of the bronchial tubes may become irreversible and poorly responsive to medications. Therefore, the goals of asthma treatment are:
(1) in the short term, to control airway inflammation in order to reduce the reactivity of the airways; and
(2) in the long term, to prevent airway remodeling.
A lot of detail about Asthma can be found at: http://www.medicinenet.com/asthma/article.htm. Americans spend up to 90% of their time indoors, according to EPA.gov. Therefore, indoor allergens and irritants can play a significant role in triggering asthma attacks.
It is important to recognize potential asthma triggers in the indoor environment and reduce your exposure to those triggers. You may not be affected by all of the triggers listed here. Your doctor can help you to determine which triggers affect your asthma and develop a specific plan to reduce your triggers. When you and your doctor make the plan, be sure to include:
- Your child's triggers.
- Instructions for medicines.
- What to do if your child has an attack.
- When to call your doctor.
- Emergency telephone numbers.
Some of the most common indoor triggers include secondhand smoke, dust mites, mold, cockroaches and other pests, household pets, and combustion byproducts. Asthma can't be cured, according to NHBLI. Even when you feel fine, you still have the disease and it can flare up at any time.
But with today's knowledge and treatments, most people who have asthma are able to manage the disease. They have few, if any, symptoms. They can live normal, active lives and sleep through the night without interruption from their condition.
For successful, comprehensive, and ongoing treatment, take an active role in managing your disease. Build strong partnerships with your doctor and other clinicians on your health care team. Until next time. Let me know what you think.
About the Author
Mark Roberts has almost 30 years experience in sales and marketing in the tax, insurance, health care and investment markets. As the Manager of National Accounts for Careington International, Mark serves as the account manager to Careington clients including financial institutions, insurance companies and national association groups.
As a licensed life, health and accident insurance agent, Mark regularly participates in employer benefit enrollments for worksite products offered through Careington's affiliate, Core Five Solutions, a nationwide insurance agency and licensed third party administrator. In addition, Mark maintains a health care blog, www.yourbesthealthcare.blogspot.com ,and contributes dental and medical articles to the Cypress Time, www.thecypresstimes.com.
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