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Information About Asthma and the Bronchial Tubes

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Asthma affects approx 14 million adults in the US, it is also the most common chronic illness of childhood affecting 6 million children.

asthma chart Information About Asthma and the Bronchial TubesAsthma occurs when the main airways to our lungs the bronchial tubes, become inflamed. The muscles of the bronchial walls tighten, and the lungs produce extra mucus further decreasing the size of the bronchial. This can cause wheezing and coughing so severe that asthma attacks can be life-threatening.

Asthma affects more than 20 million people in US, 6 million of those being children; this makes asthma the most common chronic illness of childhood. Although asthma can be chronic and life-threatening, it is a treatable condition one can learn to live with. Both adults and children can manage their asthma in much the same way one would deal with diabetes or heart disease; with the right advice and treatments from the doctor the severity and frequency of attacks can be reduced.


Signs and Symptoms

Asthma signs and symptoms can range from mild to severe. They are often similar to those of other conditions, including emphysema, early congestive heart failure or vocal cord problems.

asthma lungs Information About Asthma and the Bronchial Tubes

Some people may experience an occasional asthma episode with mild, short-lived symptoms such as wheezing. Others may be struck with more severe attacks of wheezing and coughing, without the right treatment these attacks can be life threatening and even with the right treatments patients may still find it difficult to regain regular breathing patterns for up to 30 minutes. Some asthma sufferers may never wheeze, instead they recurrent spasmodic coughing that often become worse at night.

Most asthma attacks are preceded by warning signs, symptoms of asthma in adults may include:

  • Increased shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Disturbed sleep caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Increased need to use bronchodilators – medications that open up airways by relaxing the surrounding muscles
  • A fall in peak flow rates as measured by a peak flow meter – a simple and inexpensive device that allows you to monitor your own lung function

Children often have an audible whistling or wheezing sound when exhaling and frequent coughing spasms.


Causes

asthma nkt.thumbnail Information About Asthma and the Bronchial TubesAsthma is most likely to be caused by a convergence of factors that can include genetics and various environmental and biologic triggers like infections, dietary patterns, hormonal changes in women, and allergens.

You are more likely to develop asthma if you are sensitive to these factors. Research suggests that asthma may be hereditary, if asthma runs in the family you may also be at risk of developing the condition.

There is also a link between allergy related conditions and asthma. Half of adults with asthma have an allergy-related condition which in most cases started during childhood. However not all people with allergies have asthma and not all cases of asthma can be explained by allergic response.

Common allergens and irritants may trigger your asthma symptoms include:

  • Allergens, such as pollen, animal dander or mold
  • Cockroaches and dust mites
  • Air pollutants and irritants
  • Smoke
  • Strong odors or scented products or chemicals
  • Respiratory infections, including the common cold
  • Physical exertion, including exercise
  • Strong emotions and stress
  • Cold air
  • Certain medications – including beta blockers, aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Sulfites – preservatives added to some perishable foods
  • Gastroesophogeal reflux disease (GERD) – a condition in which stomach acids back up into your esophagus. GERD may trigger an asthma attack or make an attack worse
  • Sinusitis

A number of factors may increase your chances of developing asthma. These include:

  • Living in a large urban area, especially the inner city, which may increase exposure to environmental pollutants
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Exposure to occupational triggers, such as chemicals used in farming and hairdressing, and in paint, steel, plastics, and electronics manufacturing
  • Having one or both parents with asthma
  • Respiratory infections in childhood
  • Low birth weight
  • Obesity
  • Gastroesophogeal reflux disease (GERD)

Seeking Medical Advice

Visiting the doctor for diagnosis or treatment of asthma is a simple procedure. You’ll be asked to show your previous medical history and in most cases you will required to take a physical examination as well as a lung (pulmonary) function test to determine how much air moves in and out as you breathe.
The two most common tools to measure lung function are:

Spirometer – A spirometer is used by a medical professional to measure narrowing of your bronchial tubes. This device measures the volume of air you exhale after inhaling deep breath. It also shows how quickly you can get air out of your lungs.

spirometer1 Information About Asthma and the Bronchial Tubes

Peak flow meter – A peak flow meter detects subtle increases in airway obstruction before symptoms are apparent. When readings are lower than usual, it’s a sign that an asthma attack may occur.

peak flow meter1 Information About Asthma and the Bronchial Tubes

Lung function tests often are done before and after taking a medication known as a bronchodilator to open your airways. If your lung function improves with use of a bronchodilator, it’s likely you have asthma.

If the diagnosis is not clear, you may be asked to inhale a known asthma trigger called methacholine. Methacholine causes a mild constriction of the airways which can be measured with a lung function test. A positive methacholine test supports a diagnosis of asthma.


Diagnosis

The results of your physical exam and diagnostic tests can help your doctor classify how severe your asthma is. Asthma is classified into four levels:

  • Mild intermittent – Symptoms arise up to two days a week and two nights a month.
  • Mild persistent – Symptoms arise more than twice a week, but no more than once in a single day.
  • Moderate persistent – Symptoms arise once a day and more than one night a week.
  • Severe persistent – Symptoms occur throughout the day on most days and frequently at night.

Treatment

The correct diagnosis of your asthma will help the doctor decide treatments are best for you based on your age and the severity of your symptoms.

There are several types of medications available for treating asthma. A combination of long-term control medications and quick relief medications are commonly used by most sufferers.

Long-term Control Medication

These are usually taken every day on a long-term basis, to control persistent asthma. These include:

  • Inhaled corticosteroids – Anti-inflammatory drugs reduce inflammation in your airways and prevent blood vessels from leaking fluid into your airway tissues.

Side effects include hoarseness or loss of voice, oral yeast infections (thrush), and cough. The long term use may also increase the risk of the skin thinning, bruising, osteoporosis, eye pressure and cataracts and in children, inhaled corticosteroids may slow growth.

  • Bronchodilators – Inhaling bronchodilators open up constricted airways lasting up to 12 hours.
  • Leukotriene modifiers – These drugs reduce the production or block the action of leukotrienes, substances released by the cells in your lungs during an asthma attack.
  • Cromolyn and Nedocromil – Inhaling cromolyn or nedocromil once a day may help prevent attacks of mild to moderate asthma. They may also be used to help prevent asthma triggered by exercise.
  • Theophylline – You take this bronchodilator in pill form every day. It may be helpful for relieving your nighttime symptoms of asthma.

Side effects may include nausea and vomiting, severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, acid reflux, confusion, fast or irregular heartbeat, and nervousness.

Quick-Relief Medications

These are short-acting bronchodilators that help stop the symptoms of an asthma attack in progress.

These types of medication are taken when symptoms begin. This includes short-acting bronchodilators which once inhaled, last up to 6 hours. The most commonly used short-acting bronchodilator for asthma is albuterol.

There is also number of oral and intravenous corticosteroids for asthma attacks; these include prednisone, methylprednisolone, and hydrocortisone. They may be taken for severe asthma attacks.

Long-term use of oral and intravenous corticosteroids can cause serious side effects, including cataracts, loss of bone mineral (osteoporosis), muscle weakness, decreased resistance to infection, high blood pressure and thinning of the skin.

Medications for Asthma Triggered By Allergies

Asthma is closely linked to allergies. An allergic reaction can be a common cause of an asthma attack. There are special medications that target this condition.

  • Immunotherapy – Skin tests can help determine which allergens trigger your asthma symptoms. Allergy-desensitization shots are then administered every week for a few months until you begin to loose sensitivity to the allergens, then injections are reduced to once a month. The whole process can take from three to five years.

Immunotherapy carries the risk of an allergic reaction to the shot. Life-threatening reactions are rare but possible.


Prevention

Identifying and avoiding indoor and outdoor allergens and irritants can help prevent asthma attacks. However ever, even if you manage to reduce exposure to these irritants managing asthma can be difficult.

  • Develop an action plan – Work with your doctor to write a detailed plan for taking maintenance medications and managing attacks. Be sure to follow the plan.
  • Monitor your breathing – Lung function may decrease before any signs or symptoms. Regularly measure your airflow with a home peak flow meter.
  • Treat attacks early – If you act quickly and attack is less likely to become severe. You also won’t need as much medication to control your symptoms. Take your medication as instructed when your peak flow decreases and immediately stop any activity that may have triggered the attack.
  • Exercise Regularly – Regular exercise can strengthen your heart and lungs so that they don’t have to work so hard. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise on most days. If you’ve been inactive, start slowly and try to gradually increase your activity over time. Activities like golf, walking and swimming are less likely to trigger attacks.

Exercising in cold temperatures can trigger symptoms. If you do exercise in the gold, be sure to wear a face mask to warm the air you breathe.

  • Use your air conditioner – Air conditioning helps reduce the amount of airborne pollen from trees, grasses and weeds that finds its way indoors. It also lowers the indoor humidity. Be sure to keep your air conditioner clean otherwise it can cause an attack rather than prevent one.
  • Limit use of contact lenses. – Try substituting eyeglasses for your contact lenses when the pollen count is high as pollen grains can get trapped under the lenses.

Remember that consulting a doctor about your condition is extremely important. Do not try to treat asthma yourself. Many asthma deaths result from a lack of proper treatment.

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