Asthma: What Do You Need to Know to Stay Healthy?
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.
It’s Saturday. You just had sanitation in your area. So, your neighbours are burning refuse and dead grass.
Smoke has taken over the atmosphere.
Minutes after, you begin to feel really uncomfortable. You could feel your chest tightening. You’re gasping for air. To the point, you’re coughing out so loud, trying to get mucus off your chest.
All this is happening because the vessels carrying air back and forth in your lungs are inflamed.
What you’re experiencing is called “Asthma.” A common condition that causes breathing difficulties with varying severity in people.
Asthma can affect you, irrespective of your age, gender, or race.
One of these three things can happen when you have an asthma attack:
- Your airway muscles tighten, making it difficult for air to flow.
- Your airway swells and air can’t go in or out easily.
- There’s mucus in your airway, and it needs to be removed to allow easy breathing.
What are the types of asthma that can affect you?
There are various classes of asthma you can experience, among these are:
- Allergic or extrinsic asthma: For this type of asthma, you get triggered by things like dust or animal fur. It’s mostly caused by allergies in your immediate environment.
- Non-allergic or intrinsic asthma: This type of asthma is not caused by an allergy. It’s mostly triggered by viral infections, weather changes, or even emotional stress.You can also trigger it if you undergo exercise, get exposed to cold air or air pollution.
- Persistent asthma: When you experience symptoms of asthma consistently, be it mild or severe, you have persistent asthma.
- Acute (or severe) asthma: As the name implies. You can experience an attack once or twice yearly, but it’s usually severe. And it’s triggered by a specific allergen or irritant.
- Seasonal asthma: This happens when you get attacks during a specific season. For instance, experiencing asthma symptoms during cold season and none during dry season.
- Exercise-induced Asthma (EIA): Imagine getting asthma attacks after a strenuous exercise. This is exactly what EIA is. It’s different from exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB). The tightening of airways during exercise causes EIB. But exercise triggers your asthma attack for EIA.
- Occupational Asthma: This happens due to factors in your work environment. For instance, dust particles from a cement factory where you work can affect your lungs.
What causes asthma?
While the exact cause of asthma is unknown, it's believed that these combinations of factors may play a role in its development:
- Allergies (to pollen, dust mites, etc.)
- Environmental factors (e.g., pollution, high humidity, etc.)
- Genetics (inherited condition)
- Exposure to irritants (such as tobacco smoke or pollution)
What triggers asthma?
Your asthma attack can be triggered by several things, which might include:
- Allergens: Pollen, mold, dust mites and animal fur are some of the most common triggers of asthma attacks.
- Exercise: Exercise can trigger your attack if you have exercise-induced asthma.
- Temperature: Cold air can trigger an asthma attack because it causes the muscles around your airways to tighten and narrow. It also makes your mucus thicker, which can make it harder to breathe.
- Moist or damp areas: You can get attacks if you stay too long in areas with too much moistness.
- Smoke: Smoke can also trigger your asthma, especially tobacco smoke.
- Emotional stress: You can find it hard to breathe when you get overwhelmed with certain emotions.
- Medications: Some medications, such as Ibuprofen, can trigger your attack.
What are the symptoms of asthma?
Symptoms of asthma can be different in each person, because of its varying severity. But you can experience some of these common symptoms:
- Shortness or loss of breath (which may feel like you're drowning)
- Wheezing (A whistling or squeaky sound when breathing)
- Chest tightness or pain
- Difficulty sleeping due to coughing or wheezing
- Choking sensation
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible.
What are the treatment options for asthma?
While there’s no known cure for Asthma, there are ways you can manage and prevent attacks. However, with proper treatment, you can live a normal and healthy life.
Asthma treatments include:
There are drugs you can take for instant relief from asthma attacks when they occur. These are known as “quick-relief medications”.
Examples of these are:
- Inhaled short-acting beta2-agonists (SABAs): These drugs provide quick relief during the event of attacks. They work by opening the airways within minutes of usage.
- Oral corticosteroids: You can take these drugs when you have severe symptoms of asthma. They’ll help you reduce the severity.
- Anticholinergics: They are used to relax the muscles responsible for the tightening of your airways.
There are also medications you can take to reduce the symptoms or dangers of your asthma. These are “long term control medications”.
Some long-term control medications available include:
- Inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) to reduce inflammation in the airways: They are the most common Asthma medications that you can take daily for efficacy.
- Long-acting beta-agonists (LABAs) to open the airways: These medications are usually used in combination with ICS.
- Leukotriene modifiers to prevent Asthma symptoms: You can take these medications daily to help you prevent asthma attacks.
- Theophylline to open the airways: This asthma medication is usually taken daily to keep the airway muscles relaxed.
You can also be given “allergy shots” or “biologics” if your asthma is severe and not responding to treatment.
This procedure uses heat to smoothen your airway muscles. Your doctor uses electrodes to heat the muscles along your airways, making it thinner. This will smoothen your airway muscles and allow you to breathe without difficulties.
How can you prevent asthma attacks?
The most important thing you can do to prevent an asthma attack is to avoid its triggers. However, if you can't avoid your triggers, then try to limit your exposure to them.
Other things that can keep you safe include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight: Being overweight increases your risk of developing asthma. It can also worsen existing asthma. So it’s important you keep your weight in check.
- Avoid secondhand smoke: If you have asthma, avoid places where smoking takes place. This is because secondhand smoke can trigger your asthma attacks.
- Stay away from irritants: You need to avoid dust or air pollutants as much as possible. And if necessary, you can use an air filter in places containing these irritants.
- Create an asthma action plan and follow them religiously
- Stay away from damp areas and keep your home free of molds
- Quit smoking if you smoke
- Exercise regularly to build up your Asthma tolerance
- Cover your mouth and nose when it’s cold outside
- Take your Asthma medication as prescribed by your doctor
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I know I have asthma?
If you ever experience any asthma symptoms, you should see a doctor. After which, he/she performs a series of diagnoses to determine if you have asthma.
The diagnosis can include a combination of your medical history, a physical exam, and diagnostic tests.
What should I do if I have a severe asthma attack?
Your first point of action is to use your medication or inhalers while sitting upright. Then you need to get to the nearest emergency center as soon as possible.
Severe asthma attacks can be very serious and even life-threatening. You might need more than a dose of medicine during these attacks. Hence, why you need to visit the hospital.
Also, they might need to give you oxygen therapy through a mask or tube in your mouth or nose.
What is an asthma action plan?
An asthma action plan is a personalized plan that outlines what you’ll do if you have an attack. It helps you manage your asthma and avoid potentially dangerous complications.
Work with your healthcare provider to create a plan that’ll work for you.
Am I at risk for asthma?
Anyone can develop asthma. But you stand a high risk if you smoke, have allergies, or have relatives with asthma.
How does asthma affect my lungs?
Asthma can affect your lungs by constricting or inflaming them. Thus, making it difficult to breathe. It can also lead to serious complications like pneumonia and bronchitis.
Knowing what can trigger an asthma attack and evading them increases your chances of living.
But if you've been diagnosed to have asthma, it’s important to work with your healthcare specialist to create a treatment plan. This will help you stay active and enjoy your life.
Click here to create a special care plan for yourself with an assigned care specialist.