What is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic disease in which airflow in the lungs is impeded by swelling and constriction of the bronchial tubes, as well as excess mucus production within those tubes. In an asthmatic person, muscles of the bronchial tubes tighten and thicken, and the air passages become inflamed and fill with mucus making it difficult to breath. Asthma symptoms include shortness of breath, chronic cough, wheezing and chest tightness.
There is definitely a connection between allergies and asthma. It is estimated that 80% of children and 50% of adults with asthma also have allergies. Allergies act as a trigger, along with other factors to provoke an asthma attack. Common allergic triggers include pollens, molds, animal dander, and dust mites. Other triggers include cigarette smoke, exercise, respiratory infections, sinusitis, aspirin and other drugs, and changes in weather. Uncontrolled asthma can impact an individual’s quality of life and in some cases be life threatening.
Diagnosing asthma begins with the physician compiling a complete medical history including information about the home and work environment and performing a physical examination. Lung function tests are also performed to assess the degree of airway obstruction, along with allergy tests to identify whether allergic triggers are present. In some cases lab tests and x-rays may also be used to assist in making the diagnosis.
Asthma cannot be cured, but symptoms can be controlled. Understanding asthma triggers and how to avoid or mitigate them is an important part of the treatment process. Medications are available in oral and inhaled form to relieve asthma symptoms, and to control asthma to prevent future asthma attacks. Allergy therapy, including allergy injections, may also play a role in decreasing sensitivity to allergic triggers and improving asthma control.
Patients may also be instructed on the use of a peak flow meter to help in assessing their response to treatment and to assist them in recognizing changes in lung function. The monitoring of changes in lung function can help in detecting early changes in disease status before increased asthma symptoms become evident.
Periodic monitoring of asthma symptoms, lung function, and the effectiveness of the prescribed treatment plan by an asthma specialist, is an important part of controlling asthma.
Common symptoms of an asthma attack include:
- Acute shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, wheezing
- Coughing, chest tightness or heaviness
- Tight or dry cough
- Shallow, rapid breathing
- Inability to talk in full sentences
- Individuals experiencing such symptoms should contact their physician immediately.
Asthma Facts & Figures
Asthma is one of the most common respiratory diseases affecting more than 20 million Americans. The prevalence and mortality of asthma in the United States and rest of the world is increasing in all age, sex and racial groups for reasons that have yet to be definitely established. At least 500,000 new cases of asthma are diagnosed each year in the United States.
Asthma has a significant impact on productivity and quality of life. Poorly controlled asthma may limit the ability to work, attend school and participate in sports and recreational activities.
The increase in asthma prevalence and mortality along with the increase in healthcare costs for asthma have driven efforts to improve disease management. National guidelines have been developed and published by the National Institutes of Health to improve asthma treatment and attempt to decrease asthma morbidity and mortality.