In essence, asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways that lead to the lungs. Asthma makes breathing difficult and can make physical activities very difficult. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 25 million Americans have asthma.
Asthma is also considered the most common chronic illness among American children: at least 1 out of every 12 have asthma. Fortunately, there are several asthma treatment options available to address the condition. To better understand asthma, it is important to get an insight into what occurs when you breathe.
Normally, when you breathe, air goes through the nose and mouth and down the throat and into the airways before it makes it to the lungs. There are several small air passages in the lungs that help deliver oxygen into the bloodstream.
Asthma symptoms can manifest when the airway linings swell and the surrounding muscles tighten. When mucus fills the airways, it further reduces the amount of air that passes through. These can bring on an asthma “attack,” with the tightness in the chest and coughing that’s typical of asthma.
The most prevalent symptoms of asthma include wheezing, which is a whistling or squealing sound asthma patients make when they breathe.
Other common asthma symptoms can include:
- Chest tightness
- Talking difficulty
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing (especially at night, during exercise, or when laughing)
No single exam or test can determine if a person has asthma. Rather, a variety of criteria is used to identify if the symptoms point to asthma. The following factors may help diagnose asthma:
Your doctor listens to your breathing using a stethoscope. A skin test may also be given to look for signs of allergic reaction like eczema or hives. Allergies can increase one’s risk of asthma.
Those who have family members with breathing disorder have a higher risk of developing the condition. That said, doctors need to be advised if you have family members with asthma.
Pulmonary function tests or PFTs are designed to measure airflow in and out of the lungs. Another test, known as spirometry will have patients blow into a device used to measure the speed of air.
Asthma treatments fall into three basic categories:
- Quick-acting treatments
- Long-term asthma control medications
- Breathing exercises
Typically, doctors will recommend one treatment or a combination of treatments based on the following factors:
- The patient’s age
- The patient’s triggers
- The type of asthma the patient has
When asthma symptoms get progressively worse, it is called an exacerbation. When exacerbation occurs, it becomes increasingly difficult to breathe because the bronchial tubes are narrowed and the airways are swollen.
Common symptoms of exacerbation include:
- Increased heart rate
While an exacerbation can quickly disappear without any medication, it is recommended that you get in touch with a doctor as it can be life threatening. The longer an exacerbation lingers, the more it can affect the patient’s ability to breathe.
That is the primary reason exacerbations will often require a trip to the emergency room. Exacerbations can also be prevented by medications that can manage the asthma symptoms.
While there is no cure for asthma, there are several effective treatments available that can control asthma as good as a cure.. Medications and lifestyle changes can also help improve the patient’s quality of life.
People that have not been diagnosed with asthma but are experiencing symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath should visit their doctors right away. Once diagnosed, it is ideal to visit the doctor at least once a year or more frequently if the symptoms are persistent.