Nothing could be more miserable and scary than not being able to breathe. If you have asthma, you know the feeling all too well. It is a chronic condition that constricts and inflames the airways, making breathing difficult. An asthmatic attack can be life-threatening. Recent CDC statistics found that at least 1 in every 13 Americans has asthma.
Asthma can be triggered by airborne allergens, such as pollen or pet dander. Bronchial restriction and mucous makes the breathing problem worse. This is an overview of asthma causes and symptoms, and how they are treated.
What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a Greek word that means to “breathe hard,” or pant. It is a chronic disorder that can strike at any age. When it is diagnosed in adults, doctors refer to it as adult-onset asthma. This disorder affects air intake from the mouth and nose to the lungs. As the air passages get irritated and swell, the person may struggle to breathe. Without proper intervention, the person can pass out or die due to lack of oxygen.
Types of Asthma
You may have one of two types of asthma: extrinsic (or allergic) asthma or intrinsic asthma. If you have the first kind, inhaling external (i.e., extrinsic) substances may cause an allergic reaction in your body. These triggers put the cells in your airway in defense mode, and they swell.
The second type, intrinsic, is an internal disorder that has nothing to do with allergic triggers. Their triggers may be stress, cold or over-exertion. The symptoms of both types will be the same.
Asthma Causes and Symptoms
Medical researchers are not sure how people get asthma. Some studies indicate that heredity, gender, race, frequent viral infections, and poor air quality may be factors A trigger for one person may be different from others with asthma. No matter what the factors or asthma type, similar symptoms will be present.
Asthmatics (people with asthma) will react as soon as something triggers it. They will have an asthma attack (or flare-up). They may cough and choke as their airway constricts in their throat and chest. On top of that, they may experience chest pain, wheezing, and stressful shortness of breath.
The attack may be mild to severe, depending on the person and the trigger. These asthmatic episodes can occur occasionally, or they may be a frequent problem. Mild attacks are short-lived, while severe asthma attacks may linger much longer and can be fatal.
Quickcare or ER?
Red flags that will send you to the ER:
- Your symptoms are not relieved within 5-10 minutes of taking fast-acting medication.
- The wheezing or coughing attacks intensify.
- Your lips and fingernail beds turn a bluish color (due to lack of oxygen).
- A fever accompanies the flair-up.
- You pass out.
What Will Your Doctor Ask
Asthma causes and symptoms are often overlooked by patients. Therefore, your doctor will ask questions to get to the root of the problem. First, professionals will ask about your symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Tell your doctor when you first noticed these symptoms, and how severe they are.
The doctor may ask you to rate the severity on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the worst. They will also need to know how often you experience these symptoms, what time of day they usually occur, and any activity you may have been doing. All these questions are pertinent to diagnosing asthma causes and symptoms.
Next, your physician should interview you about your medical history—particularly events that affected your breathing. He/she might ask if anyone in your immediate family has asthma or other lung issues. Have a list handy of any medications you are taking (prescription and OTC), as well as supplements.
Let the doctor know if you are pregnant or nursing your baby. If you have any known allergies, it is important to put them in your narrative. The doctor will need to know major details of your lifestyle, such as diet, exercise, alcohol intake, and if you smoke (or were a smoker). No detail is too insignificant for asthma causes and symptoms.
What the Doctor Will Look for
Your doctor will watch the effort used to breath. That is, the breathing rate and the accessory muscles used to bring air into the lungs is key. The extent of wheezing heard with a stethoscope is an integral part of a doctor’s assessment
After your narrative and a complete physical examination, the doctor will perform a simple breathing test, called spirometry. This test reveals how your lungs are functioning by how much air you can exhale, and how quickly you do it.
To do the test, you breathe into a tube that is connected to a spirometer. This will record necessary measurements and print them on a graph. The physician will compare your numbers with what is considered normal.
What Is the Treatment for Asthma?
Asthma causes and symptoms can only be managed. There are still no cures for the disease. Your primary care physician may refer you to a pulmonary specialist. Such a specialist can prescribe an asthma treatment plan that is right for you.
Part of managing your asthma symptoms is to avoid things that trigger flair-ups. This step may include changes in your eating habits and lifestyle.
Your asthma treatment plan may include medication. The specialist will probably prescribe a fast-acting medication (for sudden attacks) and a maintenance drug (for long-term symptom management). Inhalers have fast-acting medication that can relieve an acute asthma flair-up. Your doctor will recommend that you always keep an inhaler with you in case of emergency.
The long-term medications that your lung specialist prescribes are usually taken daily. Oral steroids such as prednisone are very helpful. Inhaled steroids are great for long-term care. Their goal is to reduce the chances of having an asthma attack in the first place. Some of these medications are inhaled and soothe your airway passages, reduce inflammation, and keep them open. Others may minimize how your body reacts to certain asthma triggers.
Meet with your lung specialist on a regular basis to discuss how well your treatment plan is working. These sessions will make it clear if anything needs to be changed.
For How Long Will You Have Asthma?
While some children outgrow asthma, most adults will have it the rest of their lives. If you adhere to your doctor’s treatment plan, your symptoms should be minimized. Some of your long-term medications or dosages may need to be changed if you continue to experience flair-ups.
Asthma causes and symptoms are a serious matter. If you think you may have asthma, consult your doctor immediately. If you already have an asthma diagnosis, take your medication as directed and always keep a rescue inhaler ready.
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