Asthma: Symptoms, Causes, and Diagnosis
January 6, 2022
January 6, 2022
Asthma is a condition when your airways become narrow and swell and start producing extra mucus. It makes breathing difficult, triggers coughing, and makes a whistling sound when you breathe out. Also, it might even cause shortness of breath. It is considered a minor condition by some people. However, those majorly affected by asthma find it difficult to carry on with their day-to-day activities. In addition, it may also prove to be life-threatening.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there were 262 million people affected by asthma in 2019. Unfortunately, for over 4.6 million people, the condition became fatal.
Asthma is chronic and has no cure. Nevertheless, you can control its symptoms by bringing some changes to your lifestyle. However, it is imperative to consult your doctor and check the signs and symptoms because it changes over time. Hence the treatment can adjust according to your health status.
You need to understand your breathing patterns to get a grasp of asthma. Usually, air passes through your nose or mouth and your throat. It then goes through your airways and reaches your lungs. That is because your lungs are full of tiny air passages to ensure oxygen delivery from the air to the bloodstream.
Asthma tightens the muscles of your airways. Excess mucus blocks the airways that do not let the required amount pass through. It can trigger an asthma attack which causes coughing and tightness in the chest.
Early warning signs are the changes you experience at the beginning of an asthma attack. These are the earliest signs that your condition is worsening. People with asthma have obvious symptoms which resemble many respiratory infections.
When experiencing an asthmatic issue, you may not have all the above-stated symptoms. In addition, signs may vary at different times. The symptoms may also change between the attacks. Please note that these signs do not stop you from carrying on your daily activities. But by knowing them, you can stop or prevent them from getting worse.
It is likely to be asthma when:
When asthma worsens for a short time, it is an asthma attack. It happens suddenly or gradually over a few days.
Signs of a severe asthma attack are many. For example:
The exact cause of asthma is not known. However, asthma is often the result of a strong response of the immune system to a substance in the lungs. Normally, the body’s immune system helps to fight infections. Sometimes a person’s immune system responds to a substance in the environment called an allergen. When someone breathes in an allergen, such as ragweed, the immune system in the airways may react strongly. Other people exposed to the same substance may not react at all. The immune system reacts to an allergen by creating Inflammation. Inflammation makes your airways swell and narrow and possibly produce more mucus. This can make it harder to breathe. The muscles around the airways may also tighten, which is called a bronchospasm. This can make it even harder to breathe.
Over time, the airway walls can become thicker. The image below shows how airways narrow during asthma.
Given below are some of the most common triggers.
Tobacco smoke is hazardous for everyone. If you smoke and have asthma, quit it immediately before it is too late. Passive smoke is when another person inhales the smoke created by a smoker. It can trigger an asthma attack. So making your home a smoke-free zone is essential. People around you should also avoid it.
Dust mites are microscopic bugs found in your homes. If you are allergic to dust mites, it can trigger an asthma attack. It will help if you use allergen-proof mattresses and pillowcase covers at your home. They act as a barrier between dust mites and you. Similarly, you should never have down-filled pillows, quilts, or comforters.
To diagnose asthma, your doctor will need to know your medical history. Furthermore, he will perform a physical exam. A lung infection test and other tests such as a chest or sinus X-ray may also be required. If you have breathing problems regularly, you should contact a doctor right away. When you know what to expect, the diagnostic process becomes easy.
You need to answer some questions so that it becomes easy to understand your symptoms and their causes. You can make notes too. These questions are primarily related to observing your symptoms. If you have any signs that indicate asthma, you should be careful. In addition, you should make notes to understand the trigger points.
The doctor can conduct a physical exam on asthma. They will check your ears, eyes, nose, throat, skin, chest, and lungs.
During the physical exam, your doctor may:
There are four lung function tests commonly used to diagnose asthma.
Based on its severity, there are four levels of asthma. The situation depends on how often you have symptoms and your lung function.
Home treatment may improve your symptoms and peak expiratory flow (PEF). However, if no changes occur due to home treatment, then emergency care becomes the need of the hour. Therefore, you should immediately follow the treatment plan you and your doctor make when asthma flares up.
Periodic adjustments in your treatment plan are routine as asthma symptoms change over time. If they do not get controlled in time, you can have an asthma attack. Lingering lung infection is a sign that asthma may flare up anytime. You should schedule a doctor’s appointment as soon as the symptoms change.
Emergency medical treatment is needed if you have these severe signs and symptoms.
Here are some asthma specialists you should consider before following a treatment.
Given below are the risks which may trigger a severe asthma attack.
There is no cure for asthma. But there are steps to control and prevent it. First, you need to cut your exposure to asthmatic triggers.
You should maintain an asthma diary to keep track of your symptoms. Notice all the environmental and emotional things that affect it. You can look at the log in case of an emergency to check the factors leading to it. Triggers like moulds and cockroaches are not obvious ones. You can consult an asthma specialist to identify the allergens.
Smoke and asthma are arch-enemies. Limit your exposure to any source of smoke. These might be tobacco, incense, candles, fires, and fireworks. Do not allow smoking in your home or car. You also need to avoid going to places that permit it. If you smoke, it is high time you quit it now. These arch-enemies worsen your health immensely.
You can allergy-proof your environment and reduce the chances of an asthma attack when you’re at work, home, or even travelling. Avoid having food in restaurants that permit smoking. You should bring your bedding and pillows if possible. It is unhealthy for you to use feather pillows and down comforters supplied by the hotel.
It would help if you got a flu shot once every year. If you contract the flu virus, it can worsen your asthma for days or weeks. It can further lead to complications like pneumonia. It can even cause hospitalisation. An adult over 19 should get a pneumonia shot called Pneumovax. One can take it once every 5 to 10 years.
Prevention and long-term control are the keys to stopping asthma attacks before they start. The usual treatment involves learning to recognise your triggers. It also includes taking steps to avoid them and observing your breath.
There are long-term and quick relief or rescue medications.
If severe asthma conditions do not improve with inhaled corticosteroids or other long-term asthma medications, doctors use this treatment. During the procedure, the doctor heats the airways in the lungs with the help of an electrode. As a result, it limits the ability of the airways to tighten.
People with asthma should add the following foods to their diet:
Research proves that vitamin D reduces asthma attacks in 6 to 15-year-old children. Some important sources of vitamin D are:
Beta-carotene is considered an asthma superfood. It lowers rates of asthma and reduces lung inflammation or swelling. Some important sources of beta carotene are:
Magnesium sulfate is known as a bronchodilator. It calms the bronchial muscles and expands the airways. Therefore, it allows more air to flow in and out of the lungs. Some important sources of magnesium are:
Asthma is a lifestyle disease with no cure. It is chronic. So, there is no option but to keep it in check to live a harmonious life. Chest tightness, coughing, and shortness of breath are the early symptoms of asthma.
They may worsen and lead to faster breathing, drowsiness, and blue lips or fingers. Tobacco smoke, dust mites, and outdoor air pollution are common triggers. But remember, they vary individually.
Personal and medical history, physical exam, and lung function tests are the ways to diagnose it. Hence, you have grasped almost everything there is to know about it. It is time to bring some lifestyle changes not to affect you in the long run.