What is Asthma? Asthma is an inflammatory condition of the bronchial airways, which are the tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs. This inflammation causes the normal function of the airways to become excessive and over-reactive, thus producing increased mucus, mucosal swelling and muscle contraction. These changes produce airway obstruction, chest tightness, coughing and wheezing. If severe this can cause severe shortness of breath and low blood oxygen.
What Causes an Asthma Attack? Inflammation of the airways is the common finding in all asthma patients. This inflammation is produced by allergy, viral respiratory infections, and airborne irritants among others. Each person reacts differently to the factors that may trigger asthma, including: respiratory infections, colds, cigarette smoke, allergic reactions to such allergens as pollen, mold, animal dander, feather, dust, food, and cockroaches, indoor and outdoor air pollutants, including ozone, vigorous exercise, exposure to cold air or sudden temperature change, excitement/stress and exercise. Asthma may also be triggered by over the counter drugs, such as aspirin and beta-blockers or strong odors or sprays from perfumes, household cleaners, paints or varnishes.
What are the Risk Factors? Asthma is more common in children than adults. More boys have asthma than girls, but in adulthood, more women have asthma than men. Although asthma is a problem among all races, blacks have more asthma attacks and are more likely than whites to be hospitalized for asthma attacks and to die from asthma.
According to the American Lung Association, in 2002, an estimated 3.4 million African Americans had asthma and over 1.7 million Hispanic Americans reported that they currently have asthma and 1.1 million of them experienced an asthma attack in the previous year.
In California, American Indians were more likely to have been diagnosed with asthma than all racial/ethnic groups and Asians were significantly less likely to have been diagnosed with asthma than all racial/ethnic groups except Hispanics.
General Signs and Symptoms of Asthma
- Symptoms may include:
- Coughing—asthma is often worse at night or early in the morning, making it hard to sleep;
- Wheezing—a whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe;
- Chest tightness—this can feel like something is squeezing or sitting on your chest;
- Shortness of breath;
- Faster breathing or noisy breathing;
- Frequent coughing, especially at night (sometimes this is the only sign of asthma in a child);
- Coughing or wheezing brought on by prolonged crying or laughing ;
- Coughing or wheezing when near an allergen or irritant, or
- Exercises such as running, biking, or other brisk activity, especially during cold weather.
Screening Your health care provider will need to give you a physical checkup and do some lab tests. These tests may include a chest x-ray, blood and allergy tests, and lung-function tests.
How is Asthma Treated?
- Avoiding things that bring on your asthma symptoms or make symptoms worse. Doing so can reduce the amount of medicine you need to control your asthma.
- Allergy medicine and allergy shots in some cases may help your asthma.
- Using asthma medicines.