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Asthma (AZ-ma) is a chronic (long-term) lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways. The asthma causes recurring periods of wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe) chest tightness, shortness of breath and coughing . The coughing often occurs at night or early in the morning.
Asthma affects people of all ages but it most often starts during childhood. In United States more than 25 million people are known to have asthma. For about 7 million of these people are children.
To understand asthma, it helps to know how the airways work. Airways are tubes that carry air into and out of your lungs. For people who have asthma have inflamed airways. Inflammation makes the airways swollen and very sensitive. Airways tend to react strongly to certain inhaled substances.
When the airways react, the muscles around them tighten. This will narrows the airways causing less air to flow into the lungs. Swelling also can worsen, making the airways even narrower. The cells in the airways might make more mucus than usual. The mucus is a sticky, thick liquid that can further narrow the airways.
This chain reaction can result in asthma symptoms. The symptoms can happen each time the airways are inflamed.
Sometimes asthma symptoms are mild and go away on their own or after minimal treatment with asthma medicine. Some times, symptoms continue to get worse.
When symptoms get more intense and/or more symptoms occur, you’re having an asthma attack. The asthma attacks also are called flareups or exacerbations (eg-zas-er-BA-shuns).
Treating symptoms when you first notice them is important. This can help prevent the symptoms from worsening and causing a severe asthma attack. The severe asthma attacks may require emergency care and they can be very fatal.
Asthma is characterized by inflammation of the bronchial tubes with increased production of sticky secretions inside the tubes. The people with asthma experience symptoms when the airways tighten, inflame or fill with mucus.
The common asthma symptoms include:
♦ Coughing, especially at night
♦ Shortness of breath
♦ Chest tightness, pain, or pressure
Still, not every person with asthma has the same symptoms in the same way. You may have not all of these symptoms or you can have different symptoms at different times. Asthma symptoms may also vary from one asthma attack to the next being mild during one and severe during another.
Some people with asthma may go for extended periods without having any symptoms interrupted by periodic worsening of their symptoms called asthma attacks. Some might have asthma symptoms every day. Some people may only have asthma during exercise or asthma with viral infections like colds.
Mild asthma attacks are generally more common. Usually the airways open up within a few minutes to a few hours. A severe attacks are less common but last longer and require immediate medical help. It is very important to recognize and treat even mild asthma symptoms to help you prevent severe episodes and keep asthma under better control.
What Causes Asthma?
The exact cause of asthma isn’t known. Researchers think some genetic and environmental factors interact to cause asthma, most often early in life. These factors include:
♦ An inherited tendency to develop allergies, called atopy (AT-o-pe)
♦ Parents who have asthma
♦ Certain respiratory infections during childhood
♦ Contact with some airborne allergens or exposure to some viral infections in infancy or in early childhood when the immune system is developing
If asthma or atopy runs in your family, exposure to irritants (for example, tobacco smoke) might make your airways more reactive to substances in the air.
Some factors might be more likely to cause asthma in certain people than in others. Researchers continue to explore what causes asthma.
Who Is at Risk for Asthma?
Young children who often wheeze and have respiratory infections as well as certain other risk factors are at highest risk of developing asthma that continues beyond 6 years of age. The other risk factors include having allergies, eczema (an allergic skin condition), or parents who have asthma.
Among children, more boys have asthma than girls. But after 15 years of age, more women have asthma than men. It’s not clear whether or how sex and sex hormones play a role in causing asthma.
Most, but not all, people who have asthma have allergies.
Some people develop asthma because of contact with certain chemical irritants or industrial dusts in the workplace. This type of asthma is called occupational asthma.
Know the Symptoms of an Asthma Attack
An asthma attack is the episode in which bands of muscle surrounding the airways are triggered to tighten. Tightening is called bronchospasm. During the attack the lining of the airways becomes swollen or inflamed and the cells lining the airways produce more and thicker mucus than normal.
All of these factors bronchospasm, inflammation, and mucus production cause symptoms such as difficulty breathing, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and difficulty performing normal daily activities. Some symptoms of an asthma attack include:
♦ Severe wheezing when breathing both in and out
♦ Coughing that won’t stop
♦ Very rapid breathing
♦ Chest pain or pressure
♦ Tightened neck and chest muscles is called retractions
♦ Difficulty talking
♦ Feelings of anxiety or panic
♦ Pale, sweaty face
♦ Blue lips or fingernails
As your lungs continue to tighten you will be unable to use the peak flow meter at all. Gradually your lungs will tighten so there is not enough air movement to produce wheezing. You’ll need to be transported to a hospital immediately. Unfortunately some people interpret the disappearance of wheezing as a sign of improvement and fail to get prompt emergency care.
If you do not receive adequate asthma treatment you may eventually be unable to speak and will develop a bluish coloring around your lips. This color change known as cyanosis it means you have less and less oxygen in your blood. Without aggressive treatment for this asthma emergency you will lose consciousness and eventually die.
If you are experiencing an asthma attack, follow the “Red Zone” or emergency instructions in your asthma action plan immediately. These symptoms will occur in life threatening asthma attacks. You need a medical attention right away.