Asthma is one of the most common lung diseases in the world. It is estimated that at least 339 million people around the world suffer from asthma, and it is more prevalent among children. In the United States alone, one out of twelve children is diagnosed with asthma. Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the lungs. As the lungs’ airways become inflamed, the patient experiences difficulty in breathing, making physical activities cumbersome or, in some cases, even impossible to perform.
People with asthma are considered immunocompromised and are at a larger risk for respiratory infections such as COVID-19 since many of asthma symptoms also worsen the symptoms of a virus in the body. Furthermore, an asthma attack closely resembles some of the signs of COVID-19. To better understand what asthma is, let’s take a look at the disease’s symptoms, causes, and how asthma attacks can be prevented.
Symptoms of Asthma
Individuals diagnosed with asthma often experience bouts of coughing, at times combined with wheezing. They can also feel tightness in the chest, as well as shortness of breath. In some cases, these symptoms are accompanied by fatigue. Not all people with asthma will experience all of these symptoms. In addition, the severity of these symptoms is further classified depending on the intensity of the symptoms, as well as the frequency of asthma attacks.
Types of Asthma
Asthma can be categorized according to different types. The types of asthma are:
Bronchial Asthma – is the most common type of asthma. Most asthma attacks can be classified as bronchial asthma and the symptoms are almost all of the ones listed earlier.
Allergic Asthma – also called extrinsic asthma. This type of asthma is triggered by allergens present in the environment such as dust, pet dander, food allergies, and molds. Allergic asthma can also be considered seasonal asthma as it is closely related to seasonal allergies.
Non-allergic Asthma – also called intrinsic asthma. This type of asthma is caused by irritants in the air, such as smoke, air pollution, a viral infection, air fresheners, and products with strong odors such as cleaning products and perfume.
Occupational Asthma – this type of asthma is closely linked to a person’s workplace. Industrial environments often contain irritants that can trigger asthma attacks. Triggers include dust, dyes, gases, fumes, rubber and latex, and industrial chemicals.
Nocturnal Asthma – as the name suggests, this type of asthma occurs only during night time. Similar triggers such as dust, pet dander, and other irritants present in the environment can trigger nocturnal asthma. In some cases, even a person’s sleep cycle can cause attacks.
Cough-variant Asthma – this type of asthma is characterized by a chronic, persistent dry cough. Other symptoms of asthma, such as wheezing and shortness of breath are not typically present in cough-variant asthma. However, a severe attack can also trigger other more common symptoms.
Causes of Asthma
There are several causes of asthma, depending on its type. For most people with asthma, their condition has a genetic influence and runs in their family. Having a history of viral infections as a baby can weaken a person’s lungs and are they are more likely to develop asthma in the long term. Frequent exposure to allergens can also lead to asthma. Triggers in the environment, such as seasonal allergens and extreme weather conditions, can cause asthma attacks. Variables such as exercising or doing heavy physical activities, illnesses, and even emotions (being overly excited or when crying heavily) can also trigger asthma attacks.
Strengthening the affected individual’s lungs is the main focus of long-term treatment for asthma. Through various breathing exercises with an occupational therapist, a person with asthma can expand the capacity of their lungs, making it easier to breathe. First aid treatments can reduce symptoms as they happen. Using inhalers, nebulizers, and bronchodilators can help the patient breathe normally during an attack. Anti-inflammatory medication can address the inflammation in the lungs which can also aid in breathing normally.
Preventing asthma attacks starts with avoiding triggers. Knowing the type of asthma a person has can help in avoiding irritants that can trigger asthma. Reducing exposure to these irritants and allergens can help in decreasing the frequency of asthma attacks. Allergen immunotherapy is an injectable medication that can strengthen a person’s lungs and reduce sensitivity to triggers. Taking prescribed preventive medication daily can also help in lessening the frequency of attacks.
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that affects millions of people worldwide. However, with the right management of symptoms and medication, having asthma is no longer considered a life sentence.