Asthma is a serious (and sometimes a life-threatening) disease of the lungs and airways. Though a permanent cure is not possible at the moment , there are specific management methods which would help the patient live a complete and active life. Fortunately, with a little knowledge and discipline, you can completely control your asthma and do all the things you enjoy doing.
What is Asthma
Typically, when you breathe in air, the air travels through your nose, throat, into the airways and finally into your lungs. Asthma occurs when the lining of such airways swells up, and the surrounding muscles tighten. Mucus fills up in the airways, further reducing the amount of air passing through. The coughing and tightening feeling in the chest are typical of an asthma attack. Status of your asthmatic condition tends to be volatile and changes over time. So, you must consult your doctor regularly, track the changes and adjust your treatment as needed.
Types of Asthma
There are different types of asthma that can affect an individual:
- Bronchial asthma is the most common type and affects the bronchi in the lungs.
- Allergic asthma is caused due to allergens like pet dander, food, mold, pollen etc.
- Intrinsic asthma is caused due to irritants in the air we breathe, like cigarette smoke, viral diseases, cleaning products, perfumes, air pollution etc.
- Occupational asthma is caused due to triggering factors in the workplace like gases, chemicals, dust or latex.
- Nocturnal asthma is a type in which the symptoms get worse at night.
- Cough-variant asthma is characterized by symptoms like a persistent, dry cough.
- Seasonal asthma is the type of asthma which occurs only at certain times of the year or in certain conditions like cold air in winter, pollen during hay fever etc.
Symptoms of Asthma
Asthma symptoms vary among individuals. The type of asthma you have will determine the symptoms you experience. Not everyone with asthma will experience the same set of symptoms. The common signs and symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Trouble in sleeping due to frequent coughing and wheezing
- Coughing or wheezing attacks which gets worse during times of common cold and flu
- Tightness or pain in the chest
- Wheezing (i.e. a whistling or squealing sound when exhaling), prevalent, especially in children
Causes of Asthma
Medical experts have not been able to identify why some people have asthma, and others do not. It is the most common chronic disease in children. Many different factors and
aspects of the environmental and genetic makeup contribute or trigger the development of asthma in individuals. These include:
- If one of your parents has asthma , you are more susceptible to it.
- People who have a prolonged childhood history of viral infections are at greater risk.
- Frequent contact with allergens and irritants could trigger asthma. Common means of indoor allergens include dust mites, animal proteins and dander from pets, toxic fumes from household cleaners, fungi spores, paint and cockroaches.
- High exposure to cold and dry air
- Strong emotions like shouting, laughing, crying etc. and stress can trigger asthma
- Asthma may be triggered due to workplace irritants like gases, dust or chemical fumes.
- Smoggy environmental conditions, high humidity, and intense air pollution tends to cause higher occurrence and recurrence of asthma.
- Smoking cigarettes and other forms of tobacco lead to an increased risk of asthma.
- Respiratory diseases like flu and pneumonia trigger asthma attacks.
- In some case, taking part in physical activities and exercises could trigger asthma.
- In their childhood, boys are more likely to develop asthma than girls. However, in adulthood, women get asthma more frequently than men.
- Adults and children who are obese or overweight are more probable to developing asthma.
Treatment for Asthma
Asthma treatment falls under four primary categories which include long term medications, first aid, breathing exercises and home remedies. Your doctor will decide what treatment or combination of treatments may help you ,depending on various factors including your age, type of asthma, and the triggering factors.
Most medicines to treat this condition have to be taken through inhalers – medical devices that pump the medications into the lungs. It is important that you use the right type of inhaler and use it in the correct manner. Before using, you need proper training from your doctor or a medical professional to make sure you can take your medications properly.
- Long-term control medications: These medicines need to be taken on a daily basis to prevent asthma symptoms. They include inhaled corticosteroids, leukotriene modifiers, beta agonists, combination inhalers and theophylline.
- Quick-relief/first-aid medications: These drugs are necessary to provide rapid, short-term relief from symptoms and asthma attacks. These may also be recommended by the doctor to be taken before exercises or strenuous activities. These include nebulizers and rescue inhalers which help you to inhale medicines deep into your lungs during asthma flare-ups. Bronchodilaters help to relax the tightened muscles of your lungs. Anti-inflammatories help to target and fight the inflammation in your lungs
- Breathing exercises: These exercises help you to pass more air in and out of your lungs. Over time, breathing exercises help to increase lung capacity and fight severe asthma symptoms.
- Home remedies: Some home remedies are effective in stopping asthma symptoms from escalating and may come in handy. Coffee and caffeinated teas help to open up airways and ease symptoms for up to four hours. Inhaling essential oils, like eucalyptus, lavender, basil also helps to fight asthma symptoms.
Prevention of Asthma
Since scientists have not been able to identify the exact cause of asthma, it is quite challenging to know the ways to prevent this breathing condition. However, by working together with your doctor, you can design and implement a step-by-step plan which would prevent asthma attacks.
- You need to identify and steer clear of all the triggers which have caused you breathing difficulties in the past.
- Staying up-to-date with pneumonia and flu vaccinations help.
- You need to monitor your breathing patterns and learn to recognize the early signs of an impending attack.
- You need to get routine allergy shots to make your body less sensitive to the triggers.
- Take your medications as per your doctor’s prescription without any fail or breaks.
- You need to refrain from excessive use of quick-relief inhalers.
- Eating a healthy diet, cutting down on processed food, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and reducing stress are some of the healthy ways of avoiding asthma attacks.
Precautions to be Taken During the COVID-19 Pandemic
People with asthma are at a greater risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 infection. COVID-19 virus can adversely affect your respiratory tract (nose, throat, lungs), cause an asthma attack and may lead to acute respiratory disease and pneumonia. Take the following precautions to avoid COVID-19
- Stay home, as much as possible to reduce your risk of being exposed
- Stock up on your medical supplies.
- Maintain Social Distance with others, every day
- Keep away from others who are sick
- Clean your hands often with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- If someone in your home is sick, separate them from the rest of the family to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 infection
- Clean and disinfect things touched frequently by you or your family. If possible, have someone who does not have Asthma do the cleaning and disinfecting work at home
- Clean and disinfect surfaces like phones, remotes, tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks daily
- Do not share personal household items like cups and towels.
Keep your Asthma under control by strictly adhering to your asthma treatment plan.
- Continue your current medicines, including any inhalers with steroids (or corticosteroids) in them
- Do not stop any medicines or change your asthma treatment plan without talking to your treating doctor.
- Discuss any concerns about your treatment with your treating doctor
- Know how to use your inhaler
- Avoid your asthma triggers.
- Strong emotions caused by COVID-19 can trigger an asthma attack. Take steps to cope with your stress and anxiety. Call your treating doctor to know how to deal with your fears.
Even though there is no absolute cure for asthma, there are quite a few effective treatments which help to decrease the symptoms and help you live a healthy and active life. As people with asthma are at a higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, they have to be extra cautious. Follow all the COVID-19 precautions given above, stringently. Inhalers are of utmost importance when it comes to fighting asthmatic conditions. So, you must keep your inhalers handy at all times and know how to use them properly. The key is to be educated about your health, learn to identify all the warning signs, carry out on-the-spot relief treatments and consult your doctor, whenever the need arises.