Contributed by: Priyaish Srivastava
Asthma is a non-communicable disease (NCD) and a chronic (long-term) condition that affects both children and adults by causing inflammation and mucus formation in the bronchial tubes, thus making it difficult to breathe. If asthma is left untreated, it can be life-threatening. Women aged 15 to 49 are more likely to have asthma than men of the same age bracket. This difference can be because of the adverse effects of sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) on lung cells.
The World Health Organization (WHO) surveyed in 2019 and found that approximately 262 million people are asthma patients worldwide, while India accounts for approximately 15 to 20 million cases.
Do you or anyone you know have developed any sign that you think is related to asthma? Continue reading this article to get a clear view of asthma’s causes, symptoms, diagnosis, prevention, and treatments.
How does asthma develop?
The exact cause of asthma is still unknown, but studies prove that the reason may differ in every individual depending upon their immunity levels, medical history, lifestyle habits, and allergies (if any). Generally, asthma attacks arise when your airways come in contact with airborne allergens that develop mucus, which inflames and shrinks the airways. This obstructs breathing and causes asthma attacks.
Two of the primary reasons for an asthma attack are:
- Genetics: Asthma can be an inherited disease. You are more likely to develop the condition if your parents or your siblings (brother/sister) have it.
- Viral infections of the past: You’d be particularly susceptible to an asthma attack, is there’s a history of multiple viral infections. These can be coronavirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), adenovirus, influenza, and parainfluenza.
What triggers an asthma attack?
While you may have developed asthma or inherited it, it’s not like you’ll always be going through an asthma attack. However, it can strike anytime or any day, so keep your inhaler handy. Here are some of the key triggers that can bring upon an asthma episode:
- Airborne allergens like pollen, microscopic bugs that live in pillows & mattresses, molds, fungus, and microscopic organisms that grow in damp places, cockroach waste, and microscopic skin, hair, and saliva of your pet
- Seasonal infections and cold & flu
- Strenuous exercises
- Change of weather
- A variety of food items (check with your doctor for which foods you might be vulnerable to)
- The side effects of some medicines
Symptoms of asthma
The early symptoms of asthma usually go unnoticed and increase the chance of asthma attacks. Identifying the symptoms and getting an early diagnosis can help in managing the condition efficiently. Following are the common symptoms of asthma you should be aware of:
- Difficulty in breathing
- Shortness of breath
- The feeling of compression in the chest
- Persistent coughing
- Problem concentrating
- Persistent exhaustion
Diagnosis of asthma
Diagnosing helps in determining the exact cause of any illness. You should visit a specialist if you experience the symptoms of asthma. A few diagnostic approaches that your doctor might implement to confirm asthma include:
- Spirometry: It is a diagnostic test that checks the contraction of your airways by roughly calculating the speed and amount of air you can exhale after a deep breath.
- Peak flow: The peak flow test is conducted using a meter that measures the exhaling capacity of your lungs. If the reading indicates peak flow lower than usual, it implies that your lungs are not functioning as expected and that asthma might be getting critical. Your doctor will inform you about the measures you can take to manage the condition.
- Image testing: Image testing (CT scan, MRI, or X-ray) of your chest will help the doctor in identifying any abnormalities that are obstructing the functions of your lungs. Based on the results of this diagnostic procedure, your doctor will suggest measures to help manage the condition.
- Allergy testing: Allergy testing aids in the identification of your allergens. You could be allergic to your pet, pollen, or dust, but you can’t exactly identify the cause. Allergy testing procedures such as blood tests, skin prick tests, and intradermal tests are advised to identify your allergy and help you get rid of it or manage it.
Treatment and prevention of asthma
Prevention of asthma can be a little complicated. If you have asthma, you need to identify what triggers the attack and limit or eliminate your exposure to the causes. Here are some preventive measures you can undertake to prevent asthma attacks:
- Identifying the allergens: Asthma can be triggered by any substance you are allergic to. It can even be smell or food. Identifying the allergens and limiting your exposure to them may aid in preventing asthma attacks.
- Avoid smoking: We all know that smoking is bad for our health and can even cause death. It is one of the most common causes of asthma episodes across the world. You can avoid asthma attacks as well as severe illnesses like lung cancer by quitting or greatly reducing smoking.
- Prevent viral infection: Viral infections like cold and flu can also trigger your asthma. Avoid direct and close contact with the infected person, wash your hands regularly, and if you notice any symptoms, seek immediate medical help.
- Lifestyle changes: Implement essential lifestyle changes like eating healthy and regular yoga or exercise to strengthen your immune system and lungs. This will help to fight against infectious bacteria and viruses, as well as assist in reducing asthma episodes. Practice breathing exercises to strengthen your lungs. It will increase your lung capacity to fight against allergens and control mucus formation.
- Air purifiers: If you are not able to identify the allergens, you can install an air purifier in your home/office to purify the air of pollutants and allergens
- Taking prescribed medication: Stick to the doctor-prescribed asthma medication routine and ensure that you do not miss a dose. Missing doses can leave you vulnerable to asthma attacks. Use an advised inhaler if you feel tightness in your chest or shortness of breath. It relaxes the airways and breathing process
Unfortunately, there’s no definitive cure for asthma, but it doesn’t mean all is lost. By making certain lifestyle changes and sticking your medications (if prescribed), you lead a productive and satisfying life, like millions of others are.
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