Asthma is a long-term lung disease that causes the airways to get inflamed and narrow. Patients with asthma will find it hard to breathe. Asthma is also sometimes referred to as bronchial asthma or chronic respiratory disease.

Asthma is a serious condition that affects millions of people around the world. Fortunately, with the right treatment, you can get along just fine. Without proper treatment, you might need to visit the emergency room often, which can affect your quality of life significantly.

Bacteria and viruses

The following are the different types of asthma:

Allergic asthma – Things that trigger allergies like pollen and dust may also cause asthma attacks.

Occupational asthma – This type of asthma often affects individuals that work around certain dust, chemical fumes, or other irritants. Symptoms go away on weekends or on holidays when the person is away from the workplace.

Exercise-induced Asthma –This is triggered by  vigorous physical activity such as running, when you breathe in cold air during the physical activity.The symptoms will often manifest after completion of the physical activity instead of during the activity.

Asthma in children – Symptoms can differ from one child to another. Some of the common symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Frequent cough (especially at night, while laughing, or playing)
  • Less energy
  • Catching breath while playing
  • Shallow or fast breathing
  • Tightness in the chest 
  • Chest pain
  • Whistling sound when breathing in or out
  • Tight chest muscles and neck
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue or weakness

Nonallergic asthma – This kind is triggered by extreme weather (the heat of the summer or the cold of winter). Nonallergic asthma can also manifest when a person has a cold or is stressed.

Nocturnal asthma – Patients with nocturnal asthma experience worsening of the symptoms at night.

Cough-variant asthma – Unlike other types, cough-variant only has one symptom: long-term cough and tests done to diagnose asthma are negative.

Aspirin-induced asthma – Patients with this type of asthma will experience asthma symptoms when they take aspirin. Other symptoms that can manifest include cough, sinus pressure, sneezing, and runny nose.

Status asthmaticus – This is an emergency situation where the person develops a severe attack of asthma requiring admission to the Intensive Care Unit and life support machine. 

Asthma Classifications

Asthma is ranked based on its symptoms. For example:

Mild intermittent asthma

Patients only experience mild symptoms less than twice a week. Nighttime symptoms are experienced less than twice a month. Patients experience just a few asthma attacks overall.

Mild persistent asthma

Symptoms can manifest at least three to six times a week. Nighttime symptoms can manifest at least three to four times a month. The attacks might affect some activities patients have.

Moderate persistent asthma

Symptoms of moderate persistent asthma can manifest three to six times each week. Nighttime symptoms may also appear three to four times a month. The attacks can also affect most activities.

Severe persistent asthma

Ongoing symptoms can occur both day and night. Patients might need to limit their activities.

Some of the most common asthma triggers include:

  • Infections (flu, colds, and sinusitis)
  • Allergens (mold, dust mites, pet dander, and pollens)
  • Irritants (strong odors from cleaning solutions or perfumes)
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Exercise
  • Air pollution
  • Medications (aspirin)
  • Changes in the weather or cold air
  • Strong emotions (laughter, stress, sadness or anxiety)
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Air pollution
  • Food preservatives called sulfites (commonly found in pickles, shrimps, dried fruits, lime juices, etc.)

Factors that might make you more prone to asthma include:

  • Whether your parents (especially your mother) have asthma
  • Genes
  • Race (the condition is more common among people of Puerto Rican or African American descent)
  • Gender (adult females are more likely to have asthma than adult males)
  • Job
  • Other conditions (allergies, lung infection, or obesity)

If you suspect you have asthma, visit your doctor right away. You will be referred to an asthma specialist known as a pulmonologist. You will be asked about your medical history and symptoms. Tests to check how your lungs work may also be recommended.

  • Spirometry – A simple breathing test that can measure how much air you blow out and how fast.
  • Methacholine challenge – This test is often given to adults. This test is often resorted to when the symptoms and spirometry test does not clearly indicate asthma. 
  • Peak flow – This test is designed to measure how well the lungs can push out air. This test can also help gauge if your treatment is working or when you require emergency care.
  • Exhaled nitric oxide test – This test measures the amount of nitric oxide in your breath.

Other Tests

  • CT scan – A scan of the sinuses and lungs is taken to determine physical problems or conditions that causes breathing problems
  • Chest X-ray – This is often done to ensure no other condition is causing the symptoms. 
  • Sputum eosinophils – This test is done to look for possible high levels of white blood cells.
  • Allergy test – These can be skin or blood tests. They can tell if you are allergic to dust, pollen, mold, pets, etc.

When not under control, asthma might cause problems that can affect your way of life such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Frequent ER or hospital visits
  • Missing work
  • Mental health issues (anxiety, stress, and depression)

Asthma may also lead to other serious medical conditions such as:

  • Loss of pregnancy or early delivery
  • Pneumonia (complications from common infections like flu)
  • Lung collapse
  • Respiratory failure
  • Permanently narrowed bronchial tubes

There are various ways to prevent attacks and keep your asthma under control.

  • Know what your triggers are and avoid them as much as you can.
  • Strictly adhere to your doctor’s instructions in terms of taking asthma medications. 
  • Keep track of your condition and observe if there are signs that it is worsening.
  • Talk to your doctor regarding vaccines that can reduce your chances of developing certain conditions like flu, shingles, or pertussis (whooping cough).

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