Asthma is a chronic ailment in which inflammation of the airways, or bronchi, affects the way air enters and leaves the lungs, thereby disrupting breathing. When allergens or irritants come into contact with the inflamed airways, the already sensitive airways tighten and narrow, making it difficult for the person to breathe. Progressively severe symptoms can lead to an attack. During an attack, the overproduction of mucus lining the airways further narrows the airways, limiting oxygen intake and making it more difficult to breathe. This condition affects 5 million children in the United States and 15 million people total. Currently, there is no cure, but there are medications and lifestyle changes that can help alleviate the symptoms so that one can lead a productive life.
Symptoms differ from person to person. Most people experience severe coughing in the early morning hours or at night. The wheezing and tightening of the chest can cause shortness of breath. The condition can be triggered by allergens or induced by external irritants. Allergen-induced asthma normally appears in individuals before the age of 35. The non-allergic type occurs later, usually at middle age, and is triggered by exercise, weather changes, or viral infections.
The early exposure to allergens or irritants is thought to be an important cause of asthma. Heredity also plays a role in predisposing certain groups of the population to the chronic condition. The allergens that can trigger an attack include animal dander, pollen, mold, and dust. Irritants like cigarette smoke, air spray products and perfumes, and changes in the weather can also trigger attacks. The best way to minimize the symptoms is to avoid the triggers. Changing bed and pillow coverings once a month, avoiding mold, staying away from pets, and avoiding the outdoors during windy days are some of the lifestyle changes a person can make to eliminate the triggers.
Because it is a common condition in the United States, prescription medication exists to treat the condition if lifestyle changes do not alleviate the symptoms. Bronchilators are short-acting medications, often administered with inhalers. Bronchilators relax the airways so the person can breathe more freely. Long-term medications are used to control persistent cases. Medications that provide long-term relief include corticosteroids, beta agonists, leukotriene modifiers, Cromolyn, and Nedocromil. Depending on the symptoms, doctors may prescribe various dosages to help control asthma symptoms. Children's medications contain lighter dosages of traditional medications.
Asthma is a common condition which can be serious and life threatening if not dealt with properly. Life need not stop if a doctor determines a person has asthma. With the correct medications, lifestyle accommodations, and proper treatment, a person can live a healthy and active life.