Understanding Asthma: A Breath of Relief in Simple Terms

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Updated on: Educator Review By: Michelle Connolly

Bronchial asthma is a chronic breathing condition that impacts numerous individuals globally. It is characterised by inflamed airways in the lungs, leading to breathing difficulties. Symptoms of asthma can differ in severity from person to person. In this article, we will explain this health condition in easy-to-understand language, covering its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and available treatment choices.

Before getting into the details of this condition, you need to first familiarise yourself with the structure of your respiratory system and how it works.

What Causes It?

The exact causes of bronchial asthma are not completely understood, but it is believed to be a result of a mix of genetic and environmental factors. Individuals with a genetic predisposition to asthma or allergies have a higher risk of developing these conditions. Factors in the environment, such as pollution, second-hand smoke, and contact with allergens such as dust mites, pollen, and animal hair, can trigger symptoms of asthma. In addition, respiratory infections, changes in hormones, being overweight, and certain medications can also play a role in the development of this condition. Other triggers can also include cold weather, physical activity, and emotional stress.

Its Symptoms

Before jumping right into the symptoms of an asthma attack, we need to know first what happens inside our airways during an attack to better appreciate these symptoms.

Imagine your airways are like tubes that carry air to your lungs. Normally, the muscles around these tubes are relaxed, so air flows freely. But during an asthma attack, 3 things happen:

  • The muscles around the tubes tighten, making them narrower. This is called bronchospasm.
  • The lining of the tubes gets swollen due to inflammation.
  • The body makes more mucus, which clogs the tubes.

All this makes it hard to breathe and leads to the symptoms one experiences during an attack.

The symptoms of an attack can vary from person to person and may include:

  • Wheezing: A whistling sound when you breathe, like air escaping a deflating balloon.
  • Shortness of breath: Feeling like you’re not getting enough air, even when resting.
  • Chest tightness: Like someone is squeezing your chest, making it hard to breathe deeply.
  • Coughing, especially at night.
  • Difficulty breathing during exercise or physical activity.
  • Rapid breathing.

Healthcare providers classify asthma according to the reason and severity of symptoms. It is categorised into two types: intermittent and persistent. Intermittent asthma involves symptoms that come and go, allowing the individual to feel normal in between attacks. Persistent asthma, on the other hand, means experiencing symptoms more frequently, ranging from mild to severe in intensity. The seriousness of asthma is determined by how often symptoms occur and how well the individual can cope during an attack.

How It Is Diagnosed

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, you should see a doctor for a proper diagnosis. After taking a full medical history, the doctor will perform a physical exam. They may also order tests such as spirometry, which tells how well your lungs are functioning. They may also conduct allergy tests to determine if you have any allergies that may be triggering your symptoms.

Managing Your Asthma

Although there is no cure for this disorder, there are several treatment options available to manage your symptoms and prevent asthma attacks. Remember how an attack works; that’s what we’re trying to reverse here by giving things that would do the opposite of what happens during an attack. We need things to widen our narrowed airways. The most common treatment options include:

  • Inhalers: These are devices that deliver medication directly to the lungs to open up the airways and relieve symptoms.
  •  Medications: There are two major types of medicines used to treat this disorder: bronchodilators and anti-inflammatory medicines. Bronchodilators work by relaxing the tightened muscles around the airways, making it easier for air to flow and for mucus to move through the airways. Anti-inflammatory medicines, on the other hand, reduce swelling and mucus production in the airways. This makes it easier for air to enter and exit the lungs.
  •  Lifestyle changes: Avoiding triggers such as cigarette smoke, air pollution, and allergens can help reduce asthma symptoms. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly help improve lung function and reduce symptoms.

To sum up, bronchial asthma is a long-lasting lung condition that can be controlled with appropriate care and adjustments to one’s way of living. If you are encountering any of the symptoms listed earlier, it is crucial to consult a physician for an accurate evaluation and management strategy. Through effective treatment, individuals dealing with this illness can lead normal, energetic lifestyles.

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