What is asthma?
Asthma is a condition characterized by narrowing and swelling of the lung’s airways, which in turn, end up secreting more mucus than usual. This results in difficult and troubled breathing, leading to wheezing, persistent cough and a feeling of tightness in the chest.
For some individuals asthma may not snowball into something serious and in the process may get overlooked. However, in others, asthma can flare up into a potentially life-threatening condition that interferes with daily routine, making routine tasks and activities difficult.
This condition most often cannot be completely cured; however, can definitely be effectively managed. Another important thing to note here is that asthma is a progressive condition and thus, its pattern and types may change over a period of time. Hence, it is important to consult a physician so that an appropriate treatment plan is chalked out.
Common asthma symptoms
The symptoms of asthma usually vary among individuals and their specific conditions; while some cases may show persistent and continuous symptoms, other instances may throw up signs that flare up only during certain activities, such as exercising. The most common symptoms associated with asthma include:
- Troubled and strained breathing
- Chest pain or a feeling of tightness in the chest.
- Difficulty in sleeping as a result of troubled breathing, wheezing or coughing
- Wheezing or coughing that flares up with the common cold or the flu
Signs of worsening asthma include:
- Symptoms that are more frequent.
- Increased difficulty in breathing)this can be measured using an equipment known as a ‘peak flow’ meter)
- Frequent usage of an inhaler and constant dependence on the nebulizer.
Common asthma triggers include:
A trigger can be anything that either initiates or flares up a condition. The airways, on coming in contact with the triggers, constrict and swell up, resulting in excess mucus secretion. This is what precisely causes the breathing difficulty. The trigger pretty much explains as to why you may suffer from asthma but not your friend. Though allergies are one of the most common triggers, an allergen may not always be responsible for your asthma all the time.
A closer look at your family tree may reveal why you suffer from asthma. Asthma could be caused by any of the different genes that you inherit from your parents that subsequently interact with the environment to induce asthma in the individual.
The foremost step in controlling asthma is to identify the triggers. Once the triggers have been identified, the next step is to control and reduce one’s exposure to those triggers. For example, with allergies as the primary trigger, you are likely to suffer from allergic asthma. If the trigger is pollution in the environment, you should mostly stay indoors, especially when there is heavy pollution outside. Some of the most common triggers are:
One of the most common triggers, maximum people suffering from asthma are likely to be allergic to allergens such as pollen from grass, trees or weed, pet dander, dust mites, etc. The level of hygiene maintained at the workplace or at your home could also determine your chances of suffering from asthma.
- Different foods and their additives
Asthma could also be a subset of food induced allergic reactions. Few common foods one might be allergic to include:
- Fresh fruits
- Shrimps, prawn and other crustaceans
Food additives and preservatives, on the other hand, are known to cause isolated cases of asthma. On consumption, sulfite additives like potassium bisulfite, sodium bisulfite, sodium sulfite and potassium metabisulfite are used in the preparation and processing of foods can act as possible asthma triggers as well.
- Asthma that is exercise induced
Exercises, especially the strenuous ones, can result in the airways getting constricted in about 80 percent of the cases. If exercise is the primary trigger for your asthma, symptoms might start showing up within the first 10-15 minutes of starting any aerobic workout. Though generally, these symptoms subside on their own by the next hour (or even 30 minutes for that matter), people diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma may suffer another attack anytime between the next 5-10 hours. Following the basics like gradually warming up prior to beginning an exercise session can help prevent an asthma attack.
- GERD induced asthma
Asthma with GERD is a very common occurrence, especially at night when the individual is lying down on his back. In GERD, the stomach acid content travels back into the esophagus, causing discomfort and heartburn. If this acid content travels up to the airways or the throat, the resultant inflammation is what triggers an attack. The case of GERD being the asthma trigger is further strengthened if there isn’t found any family history of the condition nor any past history of bronchitis or any other allergy and the asthma manifests only during adulthood. Certain medications can be recommended by the doctor and you might have to shift to a new diet if you happen to be a sufferer of GERD induced asthma.
Smoking almost exacerbates any condition. If you haven’t been able to stub the cigarette in spite of being asthmatic, sad to break the news to you but your symptoms are only going to get worse with time. Smoking during pregnancy aggravates the chances of wheezing and reduced lung functioning in the baby after its birth. If you are a smoker suffering from asthma, there cannot be an alternative to quitting the habit right now.
- Sinusitis and other infections such as bronchitis, cold and the flu
The condition of sinusitis is marked by the irritation and inflammation of the mucous membranes along the sinuses. Often, with the inflammation of the sinuses, the response of the airways is akin to the behavior in people who are asthmatic. Prompt detection and treatment of a sinus infection can be the key here.
Asthmatics are often sensitive to aspirin and other anti-inflammatory medications such as naproxen, ibuprofen and other beta blockers.
- Other common triggers
- Irritants such as tobacco smoke, strong perfume odor, cleaning agents, pollutants such as vapor or occupational dust
- Weather changes such as temperature changes, humidity and a cold wind
- Emotions such as stress, anxiety, violent outbursts of anger
Common misconceptions about asthma, busted!
Myth#1: Asthmatics should not engage in exercises, be it mild or strenuous.
Fact: Regardless of whether you’re an asthmatic or not, exercise will always remain a vital cog in general health and fitness. With proper care, exercising shouldn’t be a concern for asthmatics. In fact, exercise is recommended to asthmatics (especially in areas marked by comparatively high humidity); this is because drying of the air passage is often the cause for exercise induced asthma. A gradual warm-up session and a cooling period post exercise should always be adhered to.
Myth#2: You will always outgrow the condition.
Fact: This is only half truth. Children in the age group of 2 to 10 years who were diagnosed with asthma seemed to actually ‘outgrow’ it by the time they grew taller. However, the condition might recur during the 30s helped by factors such as smoking, exposure to irritants and contracting an upper respiratory virus.
Myth#3: Dietary supplements can help.
Fact: There isn’t concrete proof to substantiate the fact that dietary supplements could help ease symptoms of asthma. However, following a balanced diet replete with fruits and vegetables and low on red meats and other high calorie foods is definitely recommended.
Myth#4: Medications for asthma stop being effective beyond a point in time
Fact: Sticking to the prescribed dosage will ensure that the medications don’t lose their potency. Mild cases of asthma can be kept in check with use of inhalers that offer quick relief once the symptoms start to show up. However, more severe cases need to be controlled with daily intake of prescribed drugs. Symptomatic relief isn’t going to help in case of severe asthma.
Let asthma not become an impediment to the activities you love doing. To best manage asthma, get in touch with a doctor today.