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Asthma: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

  • Synopsis: Information in regards to asthma including treatment methods to control asthma to prevent severe attacks.

Definition: Defining the Meaning of Asthma

Asthma is defined as a common chronic inflammatory disease of the airways characterized by variable and recurring symptoms, reversible airflow obstruction and bronchospasm. Common symptoms include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Asthma is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Its diagnosis is usually based on the pattern of symptoms, response to therapy over time and spirometry - (meaning the measuring of breath).

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What is Asthma

Simply put, asthma narrows the tubes present in the lungs during an acute attack, which makes it more difficult for the sufferer to breathe.

Three factors affect this spasmodic reaction in the lungs' tubes. Because sufferers are struggling to breathe, muscles in the throat also contract during an attack, and edema may also occur (basically, swelling), which makes it even more difficult to breathe. Mucus may also build up because mucus occurs as a reaction to irritants and tries to act as a buffer or coating to both remove any irritant and to soothe the underlying tissue. This constitutes an asthma attack.

Asthma attacks be relatively benign or very severe. Simply relaxing and breathing through an attack calmly may be enough to thwart it, perhaps with use of an inhaler. Experienced asthma sufferers know that it helps to be calm during an attack, in order to make symptoms less severe and go away more quickly. Inexperienced sufferers, or those prone to nervousness anyway, may experience panic attacks, which would make the asthma attacks even more severe. The harder you try to breathe, the harder it becomes. You may truly feel as though you are drowning.

Why do some people get asthma and others not

No one knows for sure who will get asthma and who won't, but there are several predisposing factors, including genetic predisposition. Others prone to asthma may include those who smoke and those who are overweight and/or obese, and who do not remain physically active. After all, the lungs are organs that need exercise, too, and if you're not getting sufficient cardiovascular exercise every day, you make yourself more prone to asthma. Whatever your particular predisposition, if you have asthma, it will help to know what you're triggers are. These include pollen, dust, cigarette smoke, animal hair and dander, and others. Those with the most severe asthma may even have to be careful with vigorous exercise or extreme laughter, for example. Fortunately, with the intervention of medications, these types of situations are relatively rare.

If you do have asthma, the good news is the that you can control it, both by limiting your exposure to your triggers and knowing what they are, and using proper medication as prescribed by your doctor. You should also get sufficient exercise geared to your particular situation, since strengthening your lungs will also help thwart asthma attacks.

One little-known theory as to why asthma occurs is that asthma is a defense mechanism asthma sufferers' bodies use to keep the right balance of different gases in their lungs. By retraining themselves in their breathing (meaning slowly and carefully) they found that their asthma went away. Whether or not this is true, certainly, calm and relaxed breathing does, indeed, help keep asthma at bay, as does strengthening the lungs, as previously stated.

Coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath are symptoms asthma sufferers are used to.

They are also the symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). For sufferers, as well as physicians, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two conditions. According to a presentation at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting, as many as 50 percent of older adults with obstructive airway disease have overlapping characteristics of asthma and COPD. And this percentage increases as people get older.

Based on symptoms alone, it can be difficult to diagnose COPD vs. asthma. The pathway to a diagnosis of COPD or asthma - smoking vs. a long-term persistence of asthma - can be quite different. In every patient, but in older patients in particular, we need to take a thorough history and perform a physical examination, as well as measurements of lung functions.

In patients with COPD and asthma, the changes in lung function may be severe, and it is not often readily apparent, which is the predominant, underlying condition - asthma or COPD. Treatment will differ depending on diagnosis." Lung function changes in asthma are due to airway inflammation, and treatment is directed at reducing inflammation with corticosteroids - largely, inhaled corticosteroids. But the changes in lung function associated with COPD are caused by cigarette smoking and, except with an exacerbation, are not particularly responsive to corticosteroids.

What is the Cause of Asthma

Reason 1 - Allergic Rhinitis

The cause of asthma is also known as a trigger and one trigger is rhinitis. Allergic rhinitis is excessive discharge of mucus glands in the nose, congestion of the veins in the nasal cavity that can cause blockage of nasal airflow and cause irritation of the sensory nerves in the nose and throat.

These symptoms usually occur when airborne allergens are inhaled and are usually harmless until the immune system reacts by making antibodies. These antibodies stick to the surface of special cells called mast cells and release pro-inflammatory substances including histamines which are a cause of asthma.

These changes in the body cause an obstruction to airflow in and out of the lungs and during breathing these obstructions will increase and cause a wheezing and trapping of the air in the chest.

Reason 2 - Heredity Cause

Heredity is a big cause of asthma in children. The tendency to become allergic is inherited and is controlled by genes that only influence the production of an antibody called IgE. However, you will only develop an allergic inherited allergy if exposed to those certain inherited genes, if you are never exposed you will never develop a cause of asthma.

Reason 3 - Bronchial Irritability

Bronchial irritability is the basic cause of asthma problems. The inflammation of the bronchial walls causes loss of protective cells from mucosa therefore exposing sensitive nerve endings to the affected area. This is probably a direct result of genetics.

Other Causes

Besides the top 3 reasons, there still other thing we should know that bring on an asthma attack. Dogs and cats cause asthma attacks in some people. Tobacco smoke, cold air, exercises and even laughing can cause attacks.

Exposure to certain things in your work environment is another cause of asthma in adults who never suffered a day in their life from asthma suddenly develops asthma.

There are many medical things that can be a cause of asthma but there are things that an asthmatic must avoid. For example, dogs and cats can cause an attack in some people.

Tobacco smoke, and not just cigarettes, but cigars and pipes as well will cause attacks. The cold air can be a cause of asthma. When someone gets anxious it can cause them to start breathing irregularly which will bring on an attack. It is hard to say for certain, however, what the cause is and hard to diagnose a cure.

You should never add to, or alter any component of your current asthma treatment without first consulting your physician.

Asthma Awareness Information

Gray awareness ribbonAsthma Awareness is represented by the color gray ribbon. The month of May is U.S. National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month and May the 6th is World Asthma Day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention roughly 8 percent of adults and more than 9 percent of children in the United States have asthma.

Quick Facts: Asthma

Asthma has no cure. Even when you feel fine, you still have the disease and it can flare up at any time. Asthma affects people of all ages, but it most often starts during childhood. In the United States, more than 25 million people are known to have asthma. About 7 million of these people are children.

Asthma Symptoms:

Many things can trigger or worsen asthma symptoms. Your doctor will help you find out which things (sometimes called triggers) may cause your asthma to flare up if you come in contact with them. Triggers may include:


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