What is asthma is a difficult question to answer. The general consensus is that asthma is a chronic lung disease that causes obstruction of your airways. Airways (aka. as bronchi) are the tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs, asthma causes chronic swelling and soreness to their inside walls. If you are exposed to an allergen or irritant, your airways may begin to spasm, which results in what is known as an asthma attack or asthma episode.
Typically, asthma attacks are the result of acute spasms in the muscles surrounding your bronchi, which constricts or narrows your airways. Inflammation to the inside walls of your bronchi increases which narrows your airways even further. To top it all off, cells in your bronchi can generate additional mucus, which adds to the narrowing. The result is that you may feel as though you are “starving for air.”
Symptoms you’d normally experience during an asthma episode can include chest tightness, coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing. Asthma attacks can last minutes or hours. They certainly are not all the same, some are much more severe than others. In extreme cases, vital organs will not receive enough oxygen, leading to death.
There are two forms of asthma, allergic and nonallergic. They often occur together. Because asthma symptoms may resemble those of other diseases it is difficult to distinguish it from other conditions making asthma difficult to diagnose conclusively. For example, bronchitis, lower respiratory infections and emphysema share many of the same symptoms as asthma.
Allergic asthma can be triggered by your exposure to something your body is allergic to. Some of the more common asthma provoking allergens, also called asthma triggers, include environmental pollutants, animal dander, food additives such as sulfites, mold, chemicals, drugs, dust mites, cockroaches, exhaust fumes, feathers, and tobacco smoke.
Nonallergic asthma can be triggered by temperature changes, laughing, cold air, extreme dryness or humidity, low blood sugar, anxiety, exercise, Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), adrenal disorders and stress. Cardiac asthma is a non-allergic type of asthma caused by heart failure.
Intrinsic asthma, a nonallergic asthma, tends to appear during upper respiratory viral infections, is many times associated with bronchitis or sinusitis, and usually appears during adulthood. Intrinsic asthma sufferers seem particularly vulnerable to emotional stress, exercise, changes in the weather and other factors which are related to inner feelings.
The cause of Asthma is a mystery. No one knows what causes it, although a hereditary link to Asthma was discovered in late 1999.
Adults over the age of 65 and children under the age of 16, especially those living in urban areas are most likely to suffer from asthma. It is the number one cause of school absenteeism and the number one cause of hospitalization for children.
Asthma Medications and Treatments
There are several established asthma medications and treatments, as well as several new and promising treatment options on the horizon. In general, there are three groups of allergy medications:
- quick relief asthma medications
- long term (controller) asthma medications
- allergy induced asthma medications
Within the three general groups above your doctor will recommend your asthma treatment based on your individual needs. For example, pills, inhalants and injections are available, each with their respective positive and negative effects. In fact, inhaled and systemic bronchodilators and corticosteroids are routinely prescribed, depending on the circumstances.
The bad news is that there is no cure for asthma. The good news is that asthma is very treatable and manageable.