What is it?
Asthma is a condition affecting the airways. It makes the little tubes leading to the lungs overly sensitive, causing them to become swollen and inflamed. The triggers for an ‘asthma attack’ can vary, as can the severity. It is a common illness, with around 5.4 million sufferers in the UK, according to Asthma UK.
What causes it?
The exact causes of asthma are unclear, although certain factors are known to trigger the condition. These include:
- Infections of the lungs and airways
- A family history of asthma, eczema and other allergies (children who suffer from eczema are more likely to develop the illness after puberty)
- Having bronchiolitis (a common lung infection) as a child
- Environmental factors such as pollution and inhaling second-hand smoke. Children whose mothers smoked during pregnancy are more at risk of contracting asthma.
- Cold air, as well as allergens such as dust mites can trigger an attack
What are the symptoms?
When an asthma attack is triggered, the airways become inflamed. This means they begin to swell and produce mucus, narrowing the passage through which air is transported to and from the lungs. This often leads to:
- Coughing and wheezing
- Shortness of breath
- A tight chest
These symptoms vary in duration and severity. They are often worse during the night or with exercise. A serious attack often develops over a period of between 6 and 48 hours, according to the NHS, so there is usually plenty of time for the sufferer to seek help.
The health specialist also states that patients should look out for the following as indicators of a worsening attack:
- A raised pulse rate
- Increased wheezing
- Feeling agitated
- A drop in the peak expiratory flow rate (a test used to diagnose and monitor asthma)
How is it diagnosed?
A doctor is usually able to diagnose asthma by talking to the patient about their symptoms and checking their chest and breathing. He or she may also use a peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) test.
How is it treated?
There is no known cure for asthma, although there is now a large volume of medication available to manage the condition. A doctor can provide the best advice on what kind of treatment is most suitable to meet the patient’s individual needs.
Knowing what triggers your asthma can go a long way in helping to prevent attacks. For those whose condition is severe and prone to complications, it is advisable to get vaccinated against influenza. Stopping smoking and generally leading a healthy lifestyle can also help combat the illness.
Images: net_efekt on Flikr and Wikimedia CommonsTags: asthma causes symptoms treatment