We would like to inform our readers about Asthma on World Asthma Day.
With the rising pollution, everyone is talking about the rising cases of lung diseases such as Asthma. Estimates say there are about 15-20 Million Asthma patients in India. So let’s get to know this disease a bit.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic disease which affects the airways in the lungs. These airways, or bronchial tubes, allow air to come in and out of the lungs. In Asthma, these airways get inflamed permanently. If there is a trigger, things get worse which leads to further inflammation and muscles around the airways get tighten. This makes it difficult for air to move in and out of the lungs, causing symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and/or chest tightness.
Symptoms of Asthma
The symptoms of asthma and best treatment differs from person to person.
- The most common symptom is wheezing. This is a scratchy or whistling sound when you breathe. Other symptoms include:
- Chronic coughing
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness or pain
- Trouble sleeping due to coughing or wheezing
Asthma symptoms, or asthma flare-ups or asthma attacks, are often caused by allergies and exposure to allergens such as pollen, mould, pet dander or dust mites. Non-allergic triggers include smoke, pollution or cold air or changes in weather. Recently there has been a rise in people reporting Asthma due to increased pollution levels in major cities.
How to diagnose Asthma?
One of the tests for Asthma is Spirometry. For this test, one takes a deep breath and blows into a sensor to measure the amount of air the lungs can hold and the speed of the air they inhale or exhale. This test diagnoses asthma severity and measures how well treatment is working. Allergy testing might also be required for people who have allergies which aggravates symptoms of Asthma. Treating the underlying allergic triggers for your asthma help in avoiding asthma symptoms.
Causes Leading to Asthma
Asthma cannot be cured, but could be controlled. The strongest risk factors for developing asthma are exposure, especially in infancy, to indoor allergens (such as domestic mites in bedding, carpets and stuffed furniture, cats and cockroaches) and a family history of asthma or allergy. A study in the South Atlantic Island of Tristan da Cunha, where one in three of the 300 inhabitants has asthma, found children with asthmatic parents were much more likely to develop the condition.
Exposure to tobacco smoke and exposure to chemical irritants in the workplace are additional risk factors. Other risk factors include certain drugs (aspirin and other non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs), low birth weight and respiratory infection. The weather (cold air), extreme emotional expression and physical exercise can exacerbate asthma.
Urbanization appears to be correlated with an increase in asthma. The nature of the risk is unclear because studies have not taken into account indoor allergens although these have been identified as significant risk factors.
Experts are struggling to understand why rates world-wide are, on average, rising by 50% every decade. And they are baffled by isolated incidents involving hundreds of people in a city, who suffer from allergies such as hay fever but who had never had asthma, suddenly being struck down by asthma attacks so severe they needed emergency hospital treatment.
- One such incident in London, UK, in June 1994 saw 640 people rushed to emergency departments in the throes of full-blown asthma attacks. A similar incident happened in Melbourne, Australia. Many experts have blamed climatic conditions such as thunderstorms, which break up pollen grains, releasing starch granules that trigger attacks. But they do not know why ordinary hay-fever sufferers developed a life-threatening condition without warning.
Cure for Asthma
Unfortunately, there is no known known cure for Asthma. Patients with moderate to severe asthma have to take long-term medication daily (for example, anti-inflammatory drugs) to control the underlying inflammation and prevent symptoms and attacks. If symptoms occur, short-term medications (inhaled short-acting beta2-agonists) are used to relieve them.
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