Asthma

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic disease characterized by recurrent attacks of breathlessness and wheezing, which vary in severity and frequency from person to person.

Symptoms may occur several times in a day or week in affected individuals, and for some people become worse during physical activity or at night.

Asthma attack

During an asthma attack, the lining of the bronchial tubes swell, causing the airways to narrow and reducing the flow of air into and out of the lungs. Recurrent asthma symptoms frequently cause sleeplessness, daytime fatigue, reduced activity levels and school and work absenteeism. Asthma has a relatively low fatality rate compared to other chronic diseases.

What triggers an asthma attack?

A: Some causes and triggers are common to all people with asthma, and some are more individual. Although the fundamental causes of asthma are not completely understood, the strongest risk factors for developing asthma are inhaled asthma triggers. These include the following:-

  • indoor allergens (for example house dust mites in bedding, carpets and stuffed furniture, pollution and pet dander);
  • outdoor allergens (such as pollens and moulds);
  • tobacco smoke; and
  • Chemical irritants in the workplace.

Other triggers can include cold air, extreme emotional arousal such as anger or fear, and physical exercise. In some people, asthma can even be triggered by certain medications, such as aspirin and other non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, and beta-blockers (which are used to treat high blood pressure, heart conditions and migraine). Urbanization has also been associated with an increase in Asthma; however the exact nature of this relationship is unclear.

Management of asthma

Although asthma cannot be cured, appropriate management can control the disease and enable people to enjoy good quality of life.

Short-term medications are used to relieve symptoms. People with persistent symptoms must take long-term medication daily to control the underlying inflammation and prevent symptoms and exacerbations.

Medication is not the only way to control asthma. It is also important to avoid asthma triggers – stimuli that irritate and inflame the airways. With medical support, each asthma patient must learn what triggers he or she should avoid.

Although asthma does not kill on the scale of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or other chronic diseases, failure to use appropriate medications or to adhere to treatment can lead to death.

According to WHO estimates, 235 million people suffer from asthma globally. Although asthma cannot be cured, appropriate management can control the disorder and enable people to enjoy good quality of life. In addition, some children with milder forms of asthma outgrow their symptoms with age.