What is Asthma?

In simple terms Asthma means difficulty in breathing. When we breathe air passes through the windpipe into the lungs and which is a continuous process. Breathing in humans involves taking in of oxygen and giving out carbon dioxide. In this process the main organs involved are the Lungs which act as filter and the other part is the windpipe or the airway which enables passage of air. Any obstruction in this airway leads to difficulty in breathing and this ‘difficulty or obstruction’ in breathing is called ‘Asthma’.

What happens in Asthma?

Asthma is a condition affecting the breathing process of an Asthmatic person. This condition arises when the passage or airway is inflamed or swollen. When a person is Asthmatic his airways are swollen and inflamed and he experiences difficulty in breathing, which is a chronic condition. The airways become very sensitive to any irritations and as the inflammation increases the airway narrows down further causing more difficulty in breathing. 

What are the signs and symptoms of Asthma?

The visible signs of Asthma are very different compared to the shortness of breath or heavy breathing. In Asthma, the following symptoms are prominent:

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Wheezing, that is hissing sound while breathing.
  • Tightness in Chest and coughing
  • Difficulty in talking.

The symptoms are more visible in the night and early morning.

What causes Asthma? What are the risk factors?
Asthma is a condition which affects millions of people the world over at any age, but children are more likely to be affected and its causes may include, low birth weight, malnutrition, environmental factors, parental history and allergies.

Allergies: Almost in all cases of Asthma the main trigger is Allergy. Allergic reaction caused by antibodies present in blood cause airway inflammation thereby leading to Asthma. Common allergens causing Asthma [indoors] are dogs and cats, cockroaches, dust mites and fungus.

Tobacco Smoke: is one of the major causes of Asthma. In fact tobacco smoke has been linked to higher risk of death due to wheezing, coughing and respiratory ailments.

Environmental factors: Include pollutants like paints and molds, emissions from gas stoves and fumes from household cleaners. Weather changes also trigger Asthma like the presence of smog in winters and humidity in summers. Pollution also has a role to play.

Obesity: Overweight adults who have high body mass index are more likely to suffer from asthma and the risk in non allergic Asthma is higher than in allergic Asthma.

Pregnancy: C-Section, Stress, Genes and Heredity, Hyperactivity of Airway and Atopy [dermatitis] are the other causes of Asthma. 

How is Asthma diagnosed clinically?

A general practitioner of medicine will diagnose Asthma in the following way: 

Medical History and family history plus history of Allergies will be checked. The presence of signs like wheezing, coughing, breathing difficulties, Chest tightness, prevalence of symptoms in morning and night, worsening of symptoms in winters, allergic reactions etc.

Physical Examination: The doctor may check how you breathe with the help of a stethoscope. He would check for whether breathing is accompanied by high pitched sounds, nasal congestion, nasal polyps, running nose, signs of a swollen passage and presence of eczema or hives.

Asthma Tests: Lung or Pulmonary functions diagnose the condition of Asthma clinically. In this method a test called ‘Spirometry Test’ is conducted to check the pattern of breathing.

Modern Science has evolved a number of tests like CBC and Sputum [Saliva] tests.

What is the line of treatment for Asthma ? Can it be cured?

Asthma cannot be cured but it can be ‘controlled’ with proper management and treatment. Various therapies have been discovered to ‘control’ the environment which can trigger an asthmatic attack, for example:

The use of Peak flow meter: This device helps to check the movement of air flowing out and thereby indicating that it is time to take medication or change the medication.

Good Control Mechanism: Good control means avoiding things that may trigger Asthma like environment, pollution, smoke, food and animals.

Medicine: Medications in the form of drugs and mists and sprays called ‘Inhalers’ are suggested for Asthmatics. Inhalers efficiently go into the airways and reduce the irritation.

And it is always advisable to visit the doctor for preventive checkup and to evaluate your progress.

How does one cope with Asthma?

Having Asthma does not mean that you restrict yourself. It should not stop you from leading an active and healthy life. Managing a condition like Asthma is stressful and avoiding stress is important as stress leads to Asthma. Day to day living with Asthma can become easy if you look at other Asthmatics who have controlled and successfully managed Asthma. Eat healthy food and Give up Smoking and get plenty of rest.

Take the example of Bill Clinton the ex-President of the US who successfully managed his life and career. Being an Asthmatic did not come in the way of Bill Clinton and he achieved what he wanted to achieve.

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