Have you ever encountered a situation where breathing becomes difficult, you are unable to speak or seek help due to severe stiffness in your chest? There is constant wheezing accompanied by excessive coughing. The chances are that you have an asthma attack.
Due to the widespread availability of inhalers and other medications, asthma on paper might not appear as threatening. However, the results give a different outlook and should be a cause for concern. Asthma UK publishes data relating to this illness every year. It estimated that currently, 5.4 million in the UK suffer from asthma. Out of which 1.1 million are children. This data means that out of every 12 people, one is likely to suffer from this condition. What is more startling is that in 2016 alone, 1410 people died from asthma. Data as recent as 2017 shows that out of the total affected asthmatic population, one-quarter of them can not even climb stairs without getting excessively short of breath.
The results validate one crucial point: Asthma is serious. It needs to be dealt with carefully and it becomes imperative to seek professional medical help if the symptoms become too severe. Moreover, parents need to keep an eye on the health of their children as chances of asthma developing exist in younger age.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a pulmonary disease and is caused due to inflammation in the lungs mainly resulting in wheezing, coughing and stiffness in the chest.
A normal healthy person will have a smooth breathing of air with proper inhaling and exhaling of air. Oxygen will pass through the air passages in the lungs and enter the bloodstream where it will be used for respiration that releases energy. Meanwhile, carbon dioxide will be excreted out from the same passages.
A person suffering from Asthma will have swollen air passages along with the tightening of muscles that line up the lungs region. As a consequence of that, the exchange of air is hampered and bloodstream is unable to get the required oxygen. Mucus starts to accumulate on these passages further blocking the passing of the air. This entire process results in strong coughing and shortness of breath which medical scientists commonly refer to as “asthma attack.”
Although symptoms more or less appear to be similar in all types of asthma, pulmonologists classify six types:
- Allergic Asthma: Can be seasonal or be caused by any natural substance like food, pollen or cat hair. Usually referred as extrinsic asthma as it is triggered by allergens
- Non Allergic Asthma: Irritants in the air is a major contributor towards this type which can be in the form of pollution, air freshener, perfumes or tobacco smoke
- Cough Variant Asthma: The only type which doesn’t share the mainstream symptoms of asthma. CVA or cough variant asthma is characterized by a long-lasting period of a dry cough.
- Exercise-Induced Asthma: The symptoms set in after a few minutes of exercising which makes it difficult to carry on.
- Nocturnal Asthma: Asthma worsening at the night time leading to severe palpation, disturbance of sleep cycle and panicking
- Occupational Asthma: When symptoms are known to intensify due to a change in environment. Dust, industrial chemicals, gases, dyes can trigger an asthma attack. People working in factories are more prone to this type of asthma.
An Outlook of the Symptoms
The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology released data and facts related to asthma. 26 million people in the USA will be affected by this condition every year. However, most of them will be initially unaware of it because the mild symptoms may not get a chance to be expressive
Which brings to a very important point: Symptoms of Asthma may vary significantly and from people to people. Some victims of this illness will find an attack setting in very frequently while others may never have one, for months or even years! The magnitude of the symptoms may depend upon what type of asthma person has while at the same the reason for the attack. For example, patients with Exercise-Induced Asthma will experience attack only when they exercise and the symptoms might be non-existent in other cases.
How to Determine Asthma?
Coughing can be both dry and wet. It is one of the earliest signs of an asthma attack and may persist for a very long time.
Wheezing is the whistling sound a person makes when he/she exhales out air through the contracted air passages of the lungs. It is easily recognizable and may also occur when a patient suffers from pneumonia.
Tightness in Chest occurs due to the contraction of the muscles lining up the chest region. As a result, a person may experience intense pain making breathing difficult.
Nasal Flaring or enlargement of nostrils occurs when the breathing process is hampered. More visible and expressive in the younger age group.
Symptoms of asthma can become intense or life threatening at times which may require urgent medical treatment. The symptoms include mental confusion, anxiety, faster pulse, high fever and discolouration of the lips.
Asthma in Infants
Parents with infant children need to be careful and aware of the symptoms of asthma that might develop. The reason why infants stand at a greater chance of suffering from the illness is that their lungs have smaller air passage which makes them vulnerable to breathing problems and respiratory infections. There is likely to be excessive wheezing, difficulty in eating and a change in crying sounds.
Cold Air can be Vulnerable!
Cold Air is often dry air which can be particularly dangerous for people suffering from asthma. This dry air propels the evaporation of fluid that lines up the air passages in the lungs. As a result, the lungs get irritated. Moreover, cold air triggers the production of histamine that intensifies wheezing.
Furthermore, cold air produces an excess amount of mucus. Although, mucus aid in removing unnecessary particles that are inhaled in during breathing, its thickness and stickiness are increased in the presence of cold air. This thick, sticky mucus gets deposited on the air passages of lungs thereby blocking the necessary exchange of gases
To avoid this happening, doctors would advise staying indoors to reduce the chances of catching cold air and flu. Other precautionary steps that can be taken are:
- Making sure to have a flu vaccine
- Avoiding people who already have flu
- Keeping yourself hydrated as to keep the mucus thin and less sticky
There is no single cure for asthma, unfortunately. However, the symptoms can be made considerably less intense through the use of prevention methods and medications.
The foremost job is to identify the extent to which asthma is damaging your lungs. That can be done by conducting certain tests like Spirometry and Peak Flow which measure the thickness of bronchial tubes/air passage and the ease with which person can breathe respectively.
The medications of Asthma are usually inhaled rather than being ingested. Pulmonologists often recommend inhaled corticosteroids which fight off the inflammation in lungs easing out the breathing process. The biggest advantage of taking the medications in inhaled form is that it limits the side effects to a great extent.