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We often hear about asthma and how it affects the life and breathing patterns of the patients, often with uncomfortable symptoms. If you have this condition or have a loved one suffering from it, it is essential to know asthma meaning and its basics such as its types, causes, symptoms, and treatments. 

what is asthma?

Asthma is a condition that causes the airways in your lungs to narrow, get swollen, or inflamed. This not just leads to the production of extra mucus but also makes them more sensitive to environmental triggers such as cold weather, smoke, dust, etc. This makes breathing difficult or causes cough or wheezing.

It is a chronic condition that can affect people at any age and is amongst the most common diseases in the world affecting millions of people around the world. 

Asthma has quite an impact on people’s lives. It not just causes sleep disturbances, poor concentration, and daytime fatigue, but also has a financial impact from missing out on work or studies and managing the costs of treatment.

what are the different types of asthma?

Everyone’s experience of this condition is different brought on by different triggers. This is what classifies asthma in different categories. These include:

Allergic asthma:

This is one of the most common types of asthmas that make you sensitive to certain types of allergens. These may include mold, dust mites, pollen, pet dander, etc. This is usually seasonal when there is increased pollen in the air. This asthma can get triggered either indoors or outdoors.

At times, certain kinds of foods such as eggs, soy, peanuts, or seeds, may also cause allergic asthma. 

Non-allergic asthma:

Also known as non-atopic asthma, it is the type that is not caused due to an allergy trigger and is less common than allergic asthma. Its causes are not well understood.

This type of asthma mostly occurs later in life and can have more severe symptoms than other types of asthma.

Seasonal asthma:

As the name suggests, this asthma flares up at certain times during the year with a particular season. The most common seasons where one sees a rise in asthma cases include the high-pollen hay fever season, extreme cold or hot season, or days of the year when the pollution levels spike.

Occupational asthma:

This type of asthma flares up due to a person’s involvement in certain types of jobs. These jobs may cause exposure to things like paint fumes, insecticides, pesticides, aerosols, or other chemicals.

what are the causes of asthma?

While the exact causes of different types of asthma are not known, they are understood to be a mix of genetic and environmental reasons. Here are some of the key factors that cause asthmatic conditions in people:

  1. It seems to run in families. If either of your parents or siblings have this condition, you are more likely to develop it too.
  2. One of the most common asthma causes is allergies, seasonal or otherwise. These allergies may be caused due to dust mites, cockroach waste, or pollen.
  3. Respiratory infections in early childhood that may have caused lung inflammation or damage may cause asthma later in life.
  4. Chronic common cold.
  5. Air pollutants such as cracker smoke, smog, etc.
  6. Experiencing severe anxiety or stress frequently.
  7. Sudden bouts of physical activity or exercising.
  8. Preservatives in foods such as beer, dried fruits, shrimp, etc.
  9. Long-term dependence on medicines such as beta-blockers, aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, etc.
  10. Gastrointestinal diseases that cause acid reflux.

Besides these direct or indirect causes, certain factors increase your risk of getting asthma. These factors include:

  • Smoking or constant exposure to second-hand smoke.
  • Obesity

what are the symptoms of asthma?

Not everyone has the same symptoms of asthma. They vary from person to person and develop at different rates. Some people may experience these throughout the day and in some people, they may flare up due to sudden exposures or physical activity.

Here are some of the most common asthma symptoms to watch out for:

  1. Shortness of breath or rapid breathing.
  2. Coughing, especially while exercising, at night, or while laughing out loud.
  3. Chest tightness or pain.
  4. Inability to say a long sentence without feeling breathless.
  5. Sudden feelings of anxiety or panic.
  6. Wheezing sounds especially while exhaling that gets worse with a cold or flu.
  7. Trouble sleeping due to coughing or wheezing.

In case the above-mentioned symptoms don’t get better with treatment and become chronic accompanied by these signs, you must get immediate medical attention:

  1. Severe difficulty in breathing or the need to gasp for air.
  2. Sudden confusion or dizziness.
  3. Pale or blue tinge on the fingernails or lips.
  4. Inability to walk or talk.

what is the treatment of asthma?

Your doctor will diagnose asthma after checking your history of symptoms and carrying out a physical examination and tests using a spirometer. You may also have to undergo imaging or allergy tests to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms such as COPD or bronchitis.

Once the asthma diagnosis is confirmed, to start your asthma treatment, the doctor will take into account the severity of your symptoms, age, and general state of health.

  1. Quick-relief medicines: As the name suggests, these medicines are administered to offer fast relief from asthma symptoms by opening up your airways. Known as bronchodilators they facilitate proper breathing. For them to act quickly, these are inhaled using inhalers or nebulizers. These may also include oral or intravenous corticosteroids. However, in case these first-aid medicines don’t work within 20 minutes and your symptoms persist, you must seek immediate medical attention.
  2. Long-term and preventive medicines: These medications aim at keeping the frequent episodes of asthma at bay. However, these medicines usually don’t help in the event of a sudden asthma attack. Long-term asthma medicines include anti-inflammatories, combination inhalers, leukotriene modifiers, and long-acting bronchodilators. This also includes periodic administration of allergy shots to reduce your immune system’s reaction to specific allergens.
  3. Biologics: This line of treatment is done when the other medications fail to offer relief. Biologics target the antibodies in your body and treat the inflammation.
  4. Bronchial thermoplasty: This is a minimally invasive procedure that involves the use of an electrode to heat the lungs’ airways. This helps in preventing the surrounding muscles from tightening and blocking your airways. This procedure can only be done in a clinic or hospital and is beneficial for people who have severe asthma.

If you have asthma, it doesn’t mean that you always have to live with its debilitating symptoms. Since asthma has no cure, its management and prevention are essential to avoid frequent attacks and to lead a well-rounded life. Minimizing your exposure to allergens by maintaining hygiene, choosing to live a healthy lifestyle, and maintaining optimum weight, can prevent asthma in the long run. It also helps to reduce stress and anxiety and having an optimistic and happier disposition.

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