Asthma: Causes, treatment, and Prevention

What is Asthma? 

Asthma is a chronic, respiratory condition, in which the airways of the lungs are narrowed and inflamed causing breathing problems. Sometimes, the condition is also associated with excess mucus production. 

Asthma is a non-communicable disease and is a major health problem in India, with a reported prevalence rate of about 2-23% in various studies. It is more common in extreme ages with higher prevalence during a change of season. 

What are the Symptoms of Asthma?

The symptoms for asthma usually vary from person to person. Some patients may experience mild symptoms, while in some it may lead to the fatal attack. The symptoms can occur gradually or all of a sudden.

The most common symptoms include:

  • Coughing, that can occur anytime during the day but more often in the early morning or nights

  • Wheezing

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest tightness

What Are Asthma Triggers?

Asthma is caused in response to two types of triggers: allergic and non-allergic.

  • Allergic triggers include pollen, mould, dust mites, pet dander, and viral infections (colds, bronchitis).

  • Non-allergic triggers include air pollutants, smoke, exercise, cold air, and intense emotions. 

What are the Types of Asthma?

Asthma can be classified into several types depending upon its trigger and also the affected population. Some of the most common types of asthma include

  • Adult-onset asthma- Asthma symptoms develop in adulthood. 

  • Childhood asthma- Common in children that may completely disappear once the child grows up.

  • Allergic asthma-Triggered by allergens such as dust mites, pollen, pet fur, etc.

  • Seasonal asthma-It is common during the hay fever or cold season.

  • Occupational asthma-The triggering factor is related to the workplace such as paint, flour dust, latex glove, etc.

  • Exercise-induced Asthma-It is triggered by exercise

  • Non-allergic asthma-It is a severe form of asthma that develops later in life. It is not related to an allergy trigger.

What Causes Asthma?

The cause of asthma is not known but it may be due to interactions between environmental conditions, genes, and nutrition.

What are the Risk Factors of Asthma?

There are various risk factors of asthma such as:

  • Genetics

  • Allergies

  • Occupational exposure

  • Environment: smoking and exhaust fumes

  • Obesity

  • Premature birth

  • Lung infections

  • Pregnant mother at a young age

  • Poor nutrition during pregnancy

  • Not breastfed

  • Diet low in vitamins C and E, and omega-3 fatty acids

  • Hormones: women are more likely to develop asthma before or during menopause

How is Asthma Diagnosed?

Your doctor will obtain a medical history and physical examination. 

  • He/She will examine your nose and throat.

  • Check for breathing difficulties using a stethoscope

  • Check for skin allergies

Medical tests may include 

  • Pulmonary function tests such as spirometry and peak flow to check how well your lungs work.

  • A diffusion study is done to determine the amount of oxygen absorbed by your lungs and also to look for any permanent damage.

  • Chest X-ray to understand the cause of your symptoms

  • Allergy testing to understand triggering cause, if any

How is Asthma Treated?

The goal of asthma management is to control immediate symptoms and to prevent a future attack and worsening of the condition.

In most cases, medications are administered in the form of inhalation or nebulizers. 

Asthma medications can be broadly classified as 2 types, namely

  • Rescue inhalers which help you to breathe easy during an attack

  • Preventive medications which help to prevent future attacks by reducing swelling and controlling mucus production when exposed to a trigger.

How can You Prevent Asthma?

One of the best ways to avoid an asthma attack is by staying away from triggers and managing your symptoms well. Some of the most effective tools include:

  1. Identifying the triggers and staying away from it.

  2. Taking prescribed asthma medication and regular follow-up with the doctor for the same. 

  3. Identify worsening symptoms and take immediate action as recommended by your doctor.

  4. You may consider allergy-proof your home and getting flu-shot if recommended by your physician

 

FAQs

1. Can asthma be cured?

Currently, there is no cure for asthma. It can be controlled by taking medications and avoiding triggers. More research is needed to completely understand the prevention, treatment, and cure of asthma.

2. Should I stop exercising if my asthma gets worse?

 If your asthma gets worse during or after exercising, it means your asthma is not well controlled. Consult your doctor to make changes in your medication treatment. Once changes are made to your medications, you will be able to exercise without having symptoms. 

3. Why does asthma worsen at night?

There are several reasons for asthma to worsen at night. One reason is the possibility of inhaling dust mites allergens from mattresses, pillows, and blankets. Another reason is when you are in a lying position, there is more pressure on your lungs due to gravity. Hormones can also play a role - your hormone levels are lowered during the night and this decreases the diameter of the airways.

4. If I feel better, can I stop taking the medications?

Do not stop taking medications on your own. Stopping medications on your own will worsen your asthma condition. Always consult your doctor first before stopping any medications. 

5. Can I get addicted to asthma medications?

No, asthma medications are not addictive. You do not need to keep taking more medications to achieve the same effect. If you keep taking more medications, it means your asthma is not controlled. 

You need to consult your doctor in this situation. 

6. Should I stop taking my asthma medications if I get pregnant?

No, do not stop taking your medications. If you stop, it will worsen your situation and put your baby at risk. Most asthma medications are safe during pregnancy but it is best to take it at a lower dose and do not cause any harm to your body. There is a minimal level of inflammation throughout the year so medications should be taken regularly even if there is a mild disease. Consult your doctor to get the best advice. 

7. Should I take medications if I have only mild asthma?

Mild asthma causes symptoms and can lead to inflammation of your airways if it is not controlled. Talk to your doctor if you think you are having mild asthma, but do not ignore your symptoms. 

 

Dr. Punnet Khanna

HOD And Consultant - Respiratory Medicine

Manipal Hospitals, Dwarka, Delhi

 



 

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