Asthma: A Brief Overview Of The Chronic Lung Condition
Bronchial asthma is one of the most common lung diseases. It occurs when the airways become swollen and narrow and are blocked due to the secretion of excess mucus.
It is a chronic condition, which means it does not go away and usually needs regular medical management.
What happens during an acute asthma attack?
When we breathe normally, the muscles around the airways are relaxed, allowing the air to move easily and smoothly. However, during an asthma attack, the following things may happen:
- Inflammation: The mucosal lining of the airways becomes swollen. The swollen airways do not allow as much air to flow in or out of the lungs.
- Bronchospasm: The muscles surrounding the airways tighten (constrict). As a result, the airways become narrow and the air cannot flow through the constricted airways freely.
- Mucus production: During the acute attack of asthma, the mucosa of the respiratory passages creates more mucus. The thick mucus clogs the airways creating difficulty in breathing.
When the airways become constricted or tighter, the person makes a sound known as wheezing while breathing.
What are the different types of asthma?
Asthma is categorized into different types based on the severity of the symptoms and the possible causes.
Healthcare providers usually identify asthma as:
- Intermittent asthma: This form of asthma often comes and goes on an intermittent basis allowing the patient to feel normal between the asthma flare-ups.
- Persistent asthma: In this form of asthma, patients have symptoms most of the time. The symptoms may be mild, moderate, or severe.
- Allergic asthma: In some patients, allergies can cause moderate to severe attacks of asthma. The common allergens include molds, dust, pollens, and animal dander.
- Non-allergic asthma: External factors may cause asthma episodes to flare up. These factors may include exercise, mental stress, weather, and illness.
- Pediatric asthma: Also referred to as childhood asthma, this form of asthma usually begins before the age of 5 years, and affects infants and toddlers. However, most children tend to outgrow asthma.
- Adult-onset asthma: This form of asthma begins after the age of 18 years.
- Exercise-induced asthma: This form of asthma is triggered due to strenuous exercise. It is also referred to as exercise-induced bronchospasm.
- Occupational asthma: This type of asthma primarily affects the people who are exposed to allergens or irritating substances.
- ACOS (Asthma-COPD overlap syndrome): This form occurs when a patient has both asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Both these diseases can make it more difficult for the patient to breathe normally.
Our Respiratory Therapy CEUs are aimed at providing detailed information about the different forms of asthma and the most effective ways to treat them.
Who is at risk of asthma?
Any person can develop asthma at any age. Patients with allergies and the people who smoke or are exposed to smoke are likely to develop asthma. This also includes the second-hand smoke that occurs due to the exposure to a person who is smoking as well as the third-hand smoke that occurs due to the exposure to the clothing and the surfaces or objects in places where a person has smoked.
What are the causes of asthma?
- Allergies: Having allergies could raise the risk of asthma.
- Environmental factors: Patients may develop asthma due to the exposure to things that can irritate the air passages. These substances may include pollutants, toxins, and fumes. These factors are especially harmful to young children and infants whose immune systems have not fully developed.
- Genetics: Having a family history of asthma or other allergic diseases could make a person more vulnerable to developing this condition.
- Respiratory infections: Some respiratory infections, especially respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), could damage the developing lungs in young children putting them at a risk of asthma.
You can attend our Respiratory Care Conference to learn more about the common causes of asthma and the mechanisms that contribute to its development or progression.
What are the common symptoms of asthma?
Patients with asthma usually experience symptoms like difficulty in breathing. These symptoms often resemble those of the common respiratory infections such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Pain, tightness, and pressure in the chest
- Cough, especially at night
- Wheezing in the chest
Diagnosis of asthma
A healthcare provider would review the patient’s medical history, and ask for information about the history of asthma or other allergic diseases in the family. The physician would also ask about the symptoms with regard to how they develop and the possible allergens.
A spirometry is often performed to help confirm or rule out the diagnosis of asthma. This test is conducted to measure the airflow through the lungs and is also used to detect and monitor the progress of the patients with the treatment. The healthcare provider may also order a chest X-ray, some blood tests, and skin tests to identify the possible allergens.
Treatment of asthma
- Bronchodilators: These medications help to relax the muscles in the airways and allow the patients to breathe easily. The relaxed muscles can ensure the air can move smoothly through the air passages.
These drugs also let the mucus secretions move easily through the air passages and relieve the symptoms. Bronchodilators are usually used to treat the acute attacks of asthma and for the management of intermittent asthma.
- Anti-inflammatory drugs: These drugs help to decrease mucus production and swelling in the airways. They can make it easier for the air to enter and exit the lungs. Healthcare providers usually prescribe these drugs to be taken on a daily basis to control as well as prevent the symptoms of bronchial asthma.
- Biologic therapies: These therapies are used for the management of severe asthma when the symptoms persist in spite of inhaler therapy.
It is possible to control the progress of asthma and avoid the severe flare-ups by identifying and avoiding the allergens. Regular treatment of asthma could help to improve breathing and prevent long-term damage to the pulmonary tissues. Doctors and other healthcare professionals can attend our live respiratory CEUs 2022 to learn more about the causes and risk factors of asthma and the latest methods to treat this condition.