Asthma: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

 


Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition characterized by inflammation of airways, leading to recurrent episodes of wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and coughing. It affects people of all ages and can have a significant impact on daily life. Understanding the causes, symptoms and treatment options is crucial for managing and living with asthma. To get expert insights on asthma, refer to DocTube.

Causes

1) Genetic Factors

In many cases, it has been found that asthma has a genetic component wherein people who have a family history of asthma and other allergic conditions are at a much higher risk (Sibbald, B., Horn, M.E., Brain, E.A. and Gregg, I., 1980. Genetic factors in childhood asthma. Thorax, 35(9), p.671). Specific genes related to immune responses and airway inflammation may contribute to the development of asthma.

2) Environmental Factors

Exposure to certain environmental triggers can play a significant role in asthma development and exacerbation. Common triggers include

i) Allergens

Substances like pollen, mold, pet dander, dust mites and cockroach droppings can trigger asthma symptoms in sensitive individuals (Arshad, S.H., 2010. Does exposure to indoor allergens contribute to the development of asthma and allergy?. Current allergy and asthma reports, 10, pp.49-55).

ii) Air Pollution

Outdoor pollutants, such as particulate matter and ozone, as well as indoor pollutants like tobacco smoke and household chemicals, can worsen asthma symptoms.

iii) Respiratory Infections

The risk of asthma may be significantly increased due to viral infections in early childhood (Busse, W.W., Lemanske, R.F. and Gern, J.E., 2010. Role of viral respiratory infections in asthma and asthma exacerbations. The Lancet, 376(9743), pp.826-834). Respiratory infections, such as the common cold or flu, can also trigger asthma exacerbations in individuals already diagnosed with the condition.

iv) Occupational Exposures

Certain occupational exposures to irritants or allergens can contribute to the development of asthma. Workers in industries like agriculture, healthcare and manufacturing may be at a higher risk.

v) Physical Activity

While exercise is generally beneficial for health, some individuals may experience exercise-induced asthma, where physical activity triggers asthma symptoms. This condition can be managed with proper warm-up and medication.

Symptoms

i) Wheezing

Wheezing may be identified as a high-pitched whistling sound that is produced while breathing (Krishnan, J.A., Lemanske Jr, R.F., Canino, G.J., Elward, K.S., Kattan, M., Matsui, E.C., Mitchell, H., Sutherland, E.R. and Minnicozzi, M., 2012. Asthma outcomes: symptoms. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 129(3), pp.S124-S135). It occurs when air passes through narrowed airways, and is one of the hallmark asthma symptoms.

ii) Shortness of Breath

Individuals with asthma may experience difficulty breathing or a feeling of tightness in the chest. This sensation can range from mild to severe during asthma episodes.

iii) Coughing

Chronic coughing, especially at night or early morning, is a common symptom of asthma (Tillie‐Leblond, I., Montani, D., Crestani, B., De Blic, J., Humbert, M., Tunon‐de‐Lara, M., Magnan, A., Roche, N., Ostinelli, J. and Chanez, P., 2009. Relation between inflammation and symptoms in asthma. Allergy, 64(3), pp.354-367). This cough may often produce mucus or in other cases, may be dry.  

iv) Chest Tightness

Asthma can cause a sensation of tightness or pressure in the chest. This symptom is often described as feeling like a heavy weight on the chest.

v) Sleep Disturbances

In many cases, the common symptoms of asthma worsen at night and this leads to disrupted sleep. Nighttime coughing and difficulty breathing may contribute to fatigue and impaired daily functioning.

Treatment

i) Long-Term Controller Medications

These medications are taken daily to control inflammation and prevent asthma symptoms. Inhaled corticosteroids, leukotriene modifiers and long-acting beta-agonists are commonly prescribed for asthma treatment (Peláez, S., Lamontagne, A.J., Collin, J., Gauthier, A., Grad, R.M., Blais, L., Lavoie, K.L., Bacon, S.L., Ernst, P., Guay, H. and McKinney, M.L., 2015. Patients’ perspective of barriers and facilitators to taking long-term controller medication for asthma: a novel taxonomy. BMC pulmonary medicine, 15, pp.1-11).

ii) Quick-Relief Medications

Short-acting beta-agonists provide rapid relief during acute asthma attacks by relaxing the airway muscles. They act as bronchodilators and are crucial for managing sudden symptoms.

iii) Allergen and Irritant Avoidance

Identifying and avoiding specific triggers, such as allergens or irritants, is essential in managing asthma. This may involve using air purifiers to keep indoor spaces clean and minimize exposure to outdoor pollutants.

iv) Lifestyle Modifications

Individuals with asthma can benefit from lifestyle changes like maintaining a healthy weight, staying physically active and managing stress (Stoodley, I., Williams, L., Thompson, C., Scott, H. and Wood, L., 2019. Evidence for lifestyle interventions in asthma. Breathe, 15(2), pp.e50-e61). It is crucial to give up smoking as smoke from tobacco has the power to worsen asthma symptoms. 

v) Monitoring and Action Plans

Regular monitoring of asthma symptoms and peak flow measurements can help individuals and their healthcare providers assess the effectiveness of treatment. Asthma action plans outline steps to be taken during worsening symptoms or acute exacerbations.

vi) Immunotherapy

Allergen immunotherapy, commonly known as allergy shots, may be recommended for individuals with allergic asthma (Nakagome, K. and Nagata, M., 2021. Allergen immunotherapy in asthma. Pathogens, 10(11), p.1406). This treatment involves gradually exposing the individual to increasing amounts of specific allergens to desensitize the immune system.


Asthma is thus a complex and chronic respiratory condition with multifactorial causes. While there is no particular cure, effective management strategies, including medications and lifestyle modifications, can help individuals lead fulfilling and active lives. Seeking regular medical care, understanding personal triggers and following a comprehensive treatment plan are key elements in controlling asthma and minimizing its impact on daily functioning. Early diagnosis and proactive management are essential for achieving optimal outcomes in individuals with asthma.


FAQ

  What are some of the best asthma-friendly foods?  
   

Some of the best asthma-friendly foods are oranges, apples, salmon, beans, ginger, spinach, pomegranate and tomato juice.

 
  Which exercises should asthmatics avoid?  
   

Running, soccer or jogging can often be too much for an asthmatic, especially if he is not accustomed to exercising. It is also important to avoid exercises involving cold weather like ice hockey, skiing and other winter sports as these may lead to asthma flare-ups.

 

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