Asthma involves blockage of normal airflow into and out of the lungs. The blockage develops when certain allergens or irritants are inhaled and cause a reaction in the airways. They become swollen (inflamed), produce excess mucus, and the airway muscles tighten. This leads to the wheezing and other symptoms. Asthma affects all ages, but 50% of the cases are in children under age 10. Boys with asthma outnumber girls. In adult-onset asthma, women are more often affected.
FREQUENT SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Chest tightness. Wheezing upon breathing out.
Coughing, especially at night, may have thick, clear, or yellow sputum.
Rapid, shallow breathing that is easier with sitting up.
Breathing difficulty that gradually gets worse.
Neck and chest may be sucked in with each breath.
Severe symptoms of an asthma attack may include:
Cough that sounds tight and dry.
Rapid heartbeat and abnormal rapid rate of breathing that becomes more labored.
Unable to speak more than a few words without pausing for breath.
Sweating, and much anxiety and distress.
The exact cause of asthma remains unclear. It may be due to a combination of genetic factors, certain factors that may sensitize the airways (such as animal dander and dust mites), and contributing factors (such as childhood respiratory infections).
RISK INCREASES WITH
Other allergies, such as eczema or hay fever.
Family history of asthma or allergies.
Exposure to air pollutants.
Exposure to allergens (such as pets).
Smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke.
For adults, exposure to occupational irritants (fumes, gases, latex products, metals, and others).
No specific preventive measures for original disease. Avoiding risk factors where possible may help.
Symptoms can be controlled with treatment.
Half the children will outgrow asthma.
Missed workdays or school absenteeism.
Pneumonia, pneumothorax, or respiratory failure.
Status asthmaticus (repeated attacks).
Poorly controlled asthma and chronic symptoms.
DIAGNOSIS & TREATMENT
Your health care provider will do a physical exam and ask questions about your symptoms. Medical tests may include x-rays, pulmonary-function tests, an exercise tolerance test, and allergy testing (usually with skin tests).
Treatment will depend on the severity of the symptoms. It may include daily drug therapy, drug therapy for attacks, avoiding triggers, lifestyle changes, self-care, and education. A written treatment plan is usually provided. It should be followed carefully.
Identify and avoid your particular triggering factors.
Counseling may help, if asthma is stress-related.
A peak flow meter may be used at home. It is a small device that measures how well air flows into and out of the airways. You will be instructed on its use.
Treatment for desensitization to specific allergens may be recommended.
Hospital care may be required for severe attacks.
Asthma drugs are generally divided into two categories:
Quick relief. These drugs are prescribed for relief of asthma exacerbations and to prevent exercise-induced asthma (EIA) symptoms.
Long-term control. These drugs are prescribed for use on a daily basis to prevent symptoms.
Stay active. Avoid sudden bursts of activity. If an attack follows exercise, sit and rest. Sip warm water.
Swimming is a good exercise for asthma patients.
No special diet. Avoid foods to which you are sensitive.
Drink plenty of liquids daily to keep secretions loose.
NOTIFY OUR OFFICE IF
You or a family member has symptoms of asthma.
Symptoms don't improve, despite treatment.
Peak flow is in a zone about which you are concerned.