What is Asthma?
Asthma is a condition that affects the airways – the small tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs.
When a person with asthma comes into contact with something that irritates their airways (referred to as an asthma trigger), the muscles around the walls of the airways tighten making them narrower and the lining of the airways becomes inflamed and swells. Sometimes a sticky mucus or phlegm builds up which can further narrow the airways making it difficult to breathe.
What are the Symptoms of Asthma?
Typical Asthma symptoms are:
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness of the chest
What causes Asthma?
There are many different causes of Asthma, however certain factors may make a person more likely to develop the condition. These include:
- Smoking during pregnancy or passive smoking
- Family history of Asthma and/or other allergies
- Suffering from bronchiolitis at a young age
- Premature birth
- External factors such as pollution
- Changes in the home or working environment
Asthma can be triggered by a range of non-specific factors such as temperature changes, exercise, pollen, smoke or perfumes. Asthmatics may also suffer from an allergy to something specific such as dust, certain pollen types, animal hair and fur, bacteria and chemicals, which worsen their symptoms.
Asthma Diagnosis and Treatment
How is Asthma diagnosed?
The diagnosis of Asthma often starts with finding out more detailed information about the patient’s:
- Lifestyle (are they a smoker)
- Home and working environment
- Family medical history
It is also important to find out whether the patient can identify any triggers which appear to worsen the symptoms.
In order to determine the severity of the Asthma and to correctly manage the condition it may also be necessary to undertake certain tests which monitor breathing and lung capacity such as a peak flow measurement or spirometry.
What treatment is available?
The most effective way of administering medication for the treatment of Asthma is inhalation down through the airways and into the lungs. The most common treatment for Asthma sufferers is the use of an inhaler either for everyday use (preventer inhalers) or when needed (reliever inhalers).
Another popular method of treatment used by Asthma sufferers is a nebulizer. A nebuliser when combined with an air compressor turns liquid medication into a mist. This can then be inhaled deep into the lungs via a mask or mouthpiece for effective treatment. Nebulisers are often used for administering medication to children or in emergency situations where an increased dose may be required. They are used in the home environment to treat severe cases of Asthma and other respiratory conditions but also for some sufferers who favour this method of treatment over others.
- Who suffers from Asthma?
Asthma can present itself in men and women of all ages.
- What triggers an attack?
There are a wide range of Asthma triggers, which can be different for every person. Triggers can range from changes in temperature and common colds to allergic reactions to irritants such as pollen and dust.
- Is there anything I can do myself to prevent an Asthma attack?
Some Asthma sufferers can easily identify the triggers that they are sensitive to and go some way towards avoiding them. Taking medication correctly and avoiding triggers wherever possible can be a good way of relieving symptoms.
- What is the difference between reliever and preventer medicines?
Reliever medicines are prescribed for use only when required. This is usually when the sufferer first begins to feel their Asthma symptoms such as shortness of breath or wheezing. Reliever medication works to relax the muscles surrounding the airways thus relieving wheezing and tightness of the chest. A preventer medicine is for everyday use and acts to reduce inflammation in the airways thus reducing the risk of symptoms developing and minimising their severity.
- How do I know if my Asthma is worsening?
Whilst Asthma can be controlled effectively with the correct medication, there can be times when attacks may become more frequent or severe. Some warning signals to look out for are waking during the night with wheezing or coughing, increased wheezing on exertion and medication becomes less effective in treating the symptoms.
- Is Asthma something I will always suffer with?
There is no known cure for Asthma but effective management of the condition can help to reduce the impact is has on a person’s daily life.