What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a disease that causes your airways to swell and contract making it difficult for you to breathe. The severity of asthma differs between people. For some it may interfere with their daily activities, for others, it is a minor nuisance.
Symptoms of Asthma
- Shortness of breath when walking or being physically active
- Coughing, pain in the chest and tightness
- A wheezing sound made when breathing out (common among children)
- Trouble sleeping due to breathing problems
- Breathing problems, coughing or wheezing made worse by respiratory viruses such as the cold or flu
Symptoms to look out for to tell if the condition is worsening are:
- Increased frequency of using an inhaler
- Difficulty in breathing as recorded in a peak flow meter used to check lung performance
- Worsening of ordinary asthma symptoms
Types of Asthma
There are four main types of asthma:
The symptoms in response to an allergic reaction, such as a runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, among others, is evidence that the immune system is fighting off an invader. The allergic reaction may also spread to the lungs and airways in the form of inflammation of these organs.
Such reactions result from the chemical produced when the antibodies of the immune system wrongfully identify and attack harmless substances (the allergens). The antibodies bind themselves to the invaders to prevent them from penetrating cells.
Allergic asthma develops due to continuous exposure to allergens such as pollens, animal dander, dust mites, and mold. Occupational asthma is asthma caused by exposures found in a work environment.
Exercise-induced Asthma (EIA)
EIA affects one in five people, and as the name suggests it is asthma resulting from or occurring during physical exercises. EIA is characterized by the constriction of the bronchus and other asthma symptoms.
Nocturnal (nighttime) Asthma
This type of asthma occurs when you experience asthmatic symptoms only at night. Nocturnal asthma interferes with sleep.
Eosinophilic Asthma (E-Asthma)
Like allergenic asthma, e-asthma is another common type of asthma. E-asthma is described as asthma with a high eosinophil count of at least 150 cells per μL. E-asthma occurs as a result of a genetic predisposition to have allergic reactions in response to select environmental triggers.
The triggers that cause e-asthma do not typically affect other people. Without the genetic factor as an explanation of the response then the asthma is allergenic.
Treatment Options for Asthma
Asthma cannot be cured, but the symptoms are managed with two main types of medication.
Your doctor may prescribe long term medication administered daily through inhalation. Corticosteroids are used daily to treat the inflammation that causes asthma symptoms to occur.
Long term use medication reduces or eliminates the occurrence of asthma symptoms. The medication under this category will keep your asthma under control. Some examples of long-term medications are:
- Leukotriene modifiers are oral medications that relieve asthma symptoms. Modifiers with montelukast (Singulair) as an ingredient may cause side effects such as aggression, suicidal thinking, hallucination, and depression.
- Inhaled corticosteroids have a low risk of side effects even when used in the long term. Corticosteroids are specifically useful for treating e-asthma. However, you must use repeatedly over several days or weeks before you begin enjoying their benefits.
- Theophylline is a pill taken daily and works by relaxing the airways. It requires regular blood tests to monitor efficacy and is used less often.
Quick-relief inhalers contain Albuterol, a fast-acting medication that relieves patients from symptoms. They act by reducing inflammation, opening up airways, and enabling breathing.
Frequent use of quick-relief inhalers is an indication that your asthma is not under control. Inhalers under this category include:
- Quick-relief bronchodilators kick in within minutes to relieve asthma symptoms.
- Oral and intravenous corticosteroids, which cause severe side effects when used in the long term, make breathing easy by reducing inflammation in the airways.
- Anticholinergic agents are mostly used to treat chronic bronchitis, and emphysema makes breathing easy by relaxing your airways.
When to See Your Doctor
With asthma, it is essential to schedule regular visits with your doctor to enable them to monitor your condition and the efficacy of the medication. However, when you experience the following conditions, you should see your doctor immediately.
- You have trouble breathing to the extent that it is difficult to talk and walk.
- Your breathing is fast.
- Low oxygen levels evidenced on a pale or blue face, lips, or fingertips.
- The above symptoms do not disappear after taking medication prescribed by your physician.
- Experiencing an asthma attack during which your chest (airways) tighten and fill with mucus.
Asthma symptoms vary from one individual to another and maybe mild or server. Therefore, it is essential to consult a medical doctor to advise you on the nature of your unique symptoms and describe to you emergencies that are unique to your type.