Asthma is one of the most common diseases in the United States today. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), over 17 million adults and 7 million children currently suffer from asthma. Although asthma can be easily controlled with the right medications and procedures, it can be dangerous if left untreated. That’s why it’s important to understand the symptoms and types of asthma as well as how to prevent it.
Asthma is a chronic lung disease caused by inflamed airways that are marked by difficult or strained breathing. As the airways become more swollen and narrow, they also produce extra mucus, which can exacerbate the symptoms of asthma. The severity of an individual’s symptoms can vary depending on the type of asthma they have.
(If you're not sure whether you are suffering from asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, read What Is The Difference Between Asthma And COPD?)
Many people suffer from general asthma, which is an ongoing, chronic condition. However, there are also three specific types of asthma which may occur only in specific situations:
- Occupational Asthma: Some people develop asthmatic symptoms due to the conditions at their place of employment. This can be caused by anything from remodeling to painting to certain allergens that are present in the workplace.
- Exercise-Induced Asthma: Some people only experience asthmatic symptoms while exercising. The symptoms are often worst when the air is cold and dry.
- Allergy-Induced Asthma: Certain allergens – such as pet dander, pollen or dust – have been known to trigger asthmatic symptoms in many individuals.
As mentioned before, asthma symptoms and the severity of those symptoms can vary greatly from one person to another. However, the most common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness or pain in the chest
- A whistling sound when exhaling
- Bouts of coughing or wheezing
- Trouble sleeping due to the above symptoms
Depending on a person’s individual condition, these symptoms could last anywhere from a few minutes to a few days.
Causes And Risk Factors
The causes of asthma are different for many people. Both environmental and genetic factors have been shown to play a role in the onset of asthma. In addition, there are specific triggers which may cause asthma attacks to occur, such as physical activity, allergens, air pollutants, cold air, high stress levels or respiratory infections. Even a woman’s menstrual cycle can be a trigger for this condition.
Since many of the triggers of asthma are environmental, your exposure to those elements could be a risk factor for the condition. Additionally, having an immediate blood relative with asthma could also increase your risk for developing asthma. Other common risk factors include being a smoker, being overweight, having allergies and having a low birth weight.
The development of asthma is often difficult to prevent since it can be partially due to genetics. However, you can prevent asthma attacks by avoiding any of the environment factors known to trigger your condition. Here are a few tips for preventing asthma flare-ups:
- If your asthma is allergy-induced, cover your bedding with allergy-proof casing. It also helps to remove carpeting in your home, vacuum regularly and use air purifiers.
- Eliminate smoke from your home, and avoid any places that have a lot of smoke or air pollutants.
- Learn to identify your asthma attacks early on. Pay close attention to how your body reacts during an asthma attack. Responding to an asthma attack sooner will ease your symptoms faster and often requires the use of less medication.
- Track your use of your medication and inhalers. If your medication is not working effectively or if you have to use your inhaler more and more, your asthma may be worsening. See a doctor to change to a more effective treatment plan.
(For more information on inhalers, read The Essential Guide To Asthma Inhalers.)
There are several ways to treat asthma, including:
- Long-Term Treatments: There are several types of medications prescribed for those with asthma. Some long-term treatments involve an inhaler while others are a pill that is taken orally. In both cases, long-term treatments are taken on a daily bases and are intended to control asthma effectively for a long period of time.
- Quick-Relief Treatments: There are also a few options for people to deal with sudden or unexpected asthma attacks. They act quickly to relieve symptoms and help an individual’s breathing return to normal. These can be taken via an inhaler, a pill or an injection.
- Bronchial Thermoplasty: This is a newer treatment option that is intended only for people who don’t receive adequate results through long-term treatments. This procedure involves heating the insides of the airways with an electrode. By doing so, the smooth muscle inside the airways is reduced and ability of the airways to tighten is limited. This makes breathing easier, but the long-term benefits of this treatment are still being studied.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of asthma, see a doctor for a diagnosis and to explore potential treatment options. It’s important to treat asthma early on to prevent lung damage, especially in children.
Finally, any severe asthma attack which is not alleviated by the use of quick-relief medications requires immediate medical attention. In very serious cases, asthma attacks like these could result in permanent damage to the lungs or even death.