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Asthma is a serious and potentially dangerous disease that affects about 25 million Americans each year. It is the cause of nearly two million emergency room visits every year. Even though asthma cannot be cured entirely, it can be controlled so as to live a comfortable life. Your doctor can make a plan of treatment for you, which ensures that your asthma is constrained and not triggered easily.
People Prone to Asthma
One’s genetics, health history, surroundings, and various other factors play a role in determining the risk of having asthma. Certain risk factors are:
Family History — Genes play a crucial role in almost every disease-risk-determining factor. If your parents have asthma, you are three to six times more likely to develop the condition in comparison to someone whose parents do not suffer from the same.
Allergies — Having an allergic condition, such as dust allergy, atopic dermatitis (eczema) or allergic rhinitis (hay fever) is a potential risk factor that may lead to asthma.
Viral Respiratory Infections — Having respiratory problems during infancy or childhood can cause wheezing. Often, children who experience viral respiratory infections go on to develop chronic asthma.
Smoking — It comes as no surprise that smoking made it to the list of risk factors that can cause asthma. Cigarette smoke irritates and blocks the airways, increasing the risk of asthma. Mothers who smoke during pregnancy also expose their child to secondhand smoke, making their child more prone to developing asthma.
Occupational Exposures — For some people, exposure to certain dust (industrial or wood dust), chemical fumes, vapors and molds can cause asthma. For people who already have asthma, these factors can serve as triggers.
Air Pollution —Having grown up in urban areas or increased exposure to unhealthy air and smog can increase the risk of developing asthma.
Obesity — Children and adults who are overweight or obese are at a higher risk of asthma. Though the reason for this is unclear, obese patients often use more medications, suffer worse symptoms, and are less able to control their asthma than patients in a healthy weight range.
Symptoms of Asthma
Asthma symptoms vary from person to person. One may have infrequent asthma attacks or have symptoms only at certain times, such as when exercising. Some people may also have symptoms all the time.
Certain symptoms of asthma are as follows:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness or pain
- Difficulty while sleeping due to shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
- Whistling or wheezing sound when exhaling
- Coughing or wheezing attacks that are worsened by a respiratory virus, such as a cold or the flu
- Cough triggered by airborne substances, such as pollen or mold spores
To rule out any possible conditions such as respiratory infections or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), your doctor will perform a physical test. During the physical exam, you will also be asked questions about your signs and symptoms, and about any other health problems that you have faced or are facing.
Tests to Measure Lung Function
Some lung (pulmonary) function tests also help determine how much air moves in and out as you breathe. They are often performed before and after taking a medication called a bronchodilator that helps open your airways. If your lung function improves with the use of a bronchodilator, it is likely you have asthma.
A type of lung function test, spirometry estimates the narrowing of your bronchial tubes by checking how much air you can exhale after a deep breath and how fast you can breathe out.
A peak flow meter is a simple device that is used in lung function tests. It measures how hard you can breathe out. Lower than usual peak flow readings are a sign that your lungs may not be working as well, and that your asthma may be getting worse.
Imaging tests help diagnose asthma. A chest X-ray and high-resolution Computerized Tomography (CT) scan of your lungs and nose cavities (sinuses) help identify any structural abnormalities or diseases that can cause or aggravate breathing problems.
Allergy testing can be done with the help of a blood test or a skin test. Allergy tests help identify allergies to pets, dust, mold and pollen. If important allergy triggers are identified, it can lead to a recommendation for allergen immunotherapy.
Sputum Eosinophils is a test that looks for specific white blood cells (eosinophils) in the mixture of saliva and mucus (sputum) that you discharge during coughing. Eosinophils are present when symptoms of asthma develop. They become visible when stained with a rose-colored dye (eosin).
Treatment for Asthma
Unfortunately, there is no permanent cure for asthma. However, prevention and long-term control can help in stopping asthma attacks before they start. By recognizing your triggers and taking steps to avoid them, such as taking your prescribed medicines on time, one can successfully control symptoms. In case of an asthma flare-up, you may need to use a quick-relief inhaler.
Medication — The right medications for you depend on various factors such as your age, symptoms, asthma triggers, and what works best to keep your asthma under control. Preventive, long-term control medications are usually taken daily. They reduce the inflammation in your airways that leads to symptoms.
Quick-Relief Medications — As their name suggests, quick-relief medications are used as needed for rapid and short-term symptom relief during an asthma attack. They can also be used before exercise if your doctor recommends it. Short-acting beta agonists, Ipratropium (Atrovent), and Oral and intravenous corticosteroids are different types of quick-relief medications.
Allergy Medications — In certain cases, allergy medications are necessary as well. They help if your asthma is triggered or worsened by allergies. Allergy shots (immunotherapy) and Omalizumab (Xolair) are examples of allergy medications that help control asthma.
Bronchial Thermoplasty — This treatment is not widely available and is used for patients who have severe cases of asthma that do not improve with inhaled corticosteroids or other long-term asthma medications. Bronchial thermoplasty limits the ability of the airways to tighten, making breathing easier and possibly reducing asthma attacks.
By following a proper course of treatment that is formulated by your doctor or your local medical counselor, you can control your asthma and its symptoms from getting worse.