Asthma is a long-term chronic disease that affects the lungs which causes inflammation and narrowing of the airways to the lungs. It causes difficulty in breathing and triggers coughing. It can also cause difficulty in performing certain physical activities.
The exact cause of asthma is unclear. Genetic and environmental factors seem to play a role in causing asthma. Other causes include:
- Hormonal factors
Exposure to allergens can trigger asthma symptoms; it varies for different people. Some of the allergens are mold, dust, pollen, animal fur, air pollution and fumes from paints and household cleaners.
Asthma triggers include:
- Physical activity
- Respiratory infections
- Exposure to allergens
- Certain medications
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Certain food items
Symptoms of asthma vary for different people. For some, symptoms may be minor and infrequent; for some it can be severe and interferes with activities of daily living. Symptoms include:
- Tightness in chest
- Shortness of breath
- Trouble sleeping
The symptoms may worsen due to a respiratory virus such as a cold or flu and when performing physical activities or exposure to allergens.
- Review of signs and symptoms
- Family history
- Medical history
- Physical exam
- Lung function tests such as spirometry and peak flow
- Allergy tests
- Tests to rule out other conditions such as sputum tests, x rays
The exact cause of asthma is unclear; the exact preventive measure also remains unclear. Measures to prevent further asthma attacks in a person with asthma are:
- Avoid your asthma triggers
- Reduce exposure to allergens
- Take preventive medications
- Control GERD
- Get regular exercise and maintain a healthy weight
- Keep your home and surroundings clean
Asthma has no cure; its symptoms can be controlled. Treatment goals focus majorly on avoiding asthma triggers. Treatment measures include:
- Breathing exercises: exercises may be taught to you which can help in moving more air into and out of your lungs; it may increase the lung capacity over time.
- Medications: long term medications and quick relief medications are available for asthma treatment. Anti-inflammatory drugs and long-acting bronchodilators are examples of long term medications. Oral and intravenous corticosteroids and short acting beta agonists are examples of short-term medications.
- Immunotherapy: allergy shots are given which reduces the reaction of your immune system to specific allergens over time.
- Bronchial thermoplasty: a treatment measure used for severe asthma in which an electrode is used to heat the inside of airways in the lungs. This helps in reducing the smooth muscles in the airways which in turn prevents it from tightening and makes breathing easier.
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