What is Asthma?
Long term inflammatory disease affecting the airways of the lungs is called asthma. The disease causes inflammation of the bronchial tubes by producing more sticky secretions inside the tubes and fill up the airways with mucus. Asthma is caused by both genetic and environmental factors such as polluted air and other allergens.
It is often said that there is no cure for asthma and that only preventive measures can be taken to contain and prevent the triggers from exacerbation.
Who is affected by Asthma?
Asthma affects children up to 12 years of age due to genetic factors and over and above the age due to environmental factors. However, environmental factors could trigger the genetic factor.
Each individual may be affected due to different environmental factor at different times. When a number of such factors combine, the trigger exacerbate and lead to acute asthma. Untreated chronic asthma could prove to be fatal too.
While the causes of asthma are only genetic and environmental, the symptoms are many. Each person may experience different symptoms in different ways. Moreover, the same person may get different symptoms of asthma during different periods of attack.
Some of the most common symptoms are:
- Cough, particularly during nights
- Wheezing continuously
- Tightness of the chest
- Excessive pressure or pain experienced in the chest
- Shortness of breath
When a person does not have any symptom but suffers from asthma he or she is said to have asthma attack. Some persons may have asthma symptoms during viral infection or while exercising.
In order to prevent frequent asthma attacks it is necessary to treat it even when it is only mild.
Early symptoms and signals
Some of the early warning signals of impending asthma attacks are:
- Wheezing or coughing during and or after exercising
- Frequent cold attacks, sneezing, running nose. Congestion of the nasal ways, sore throat
- Tiredness or weakness on exercising
- Disturbed sleep due to cough or sneeze
The signals can be better understood as:
Wheezing is the whistle sound occurring while breathing;
Coughing continuously so as to disturb the sleep
Chest tightness is the feeling as if something is pressing the chest
Shortness of breath is the feeling as if air is not coming out of the lungs
Asthma is diagnosed by a lung function test, which alone can confirm the asthma attack. The symptoms alone are not sufficient to infer asthma but they are only pointers suggesting possible asthma attack.
Allergic reaction to dust, animal fur, cockroaches, grass, flower, pollen from trees etc. are detrimental to persons vulnerable to asthma. Likewise, smoke from cigarettes, air pollution or chemicals and dirt at the work place, certain medicines, food and drink containing sulphites, viral infection of the upper respiratory system during cold are also factors that could lead to asthma.
Symptoms of asthma appear off and on and may not remain permanently. Initial surfacing of the symptom is enough to commence preventive treatment.
Asthma in children
Special attention is needed to tackle the symptoms of asthma in children up to five years of age. It is very difficult for parents or doctors to identify symptoms of asthma in children of this age. As the bronchial tubes of such children are very narrow, they are easily inflamed due to mucus formation.
Any of the symptoms like coughing, wheezing, breathing trouble or frequent cold are indicative of the probable asthma attack. Frequent cold causes chest discomfort in children and remain in the chest for unreasonably longer periods, if not attended and treated in time.
Continuous cough in children leading to vomiting is an indication of asthma attack. Mere cough in children may be due to other reasons not related to asthma.
When asthma is suspected in children, treatment must be given for both quick relief as well as long term prevention. Children must be trained to use inhaler and nebulizer so as to expeditiously treat asthma. However, continuous use of such medicines may hamper the growth of the child. The solace is that breathing trouble is reduced which outweighs the negative impact of the medicines.
Whether it is children below five years, twelve years or above no symptom can be brushed aside as insignificant or irrelevant. Symptoms that are not giving too much of botheration also need to be taken seriously and appropriate treatment given in order to prevent asthma attack.
People who have a history of inflammatory nose called allergic rhinitis and skin allergy called eczema are vulnerable to asthma attack and must be careful in attending to early symptoms.
Allergy and asthma need not co-exist and one should not mistake either for the other.