Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the breathing airways. As a common ailment, there are millions of asthma sufferers around the world. Asthma obstructs normal airflow to and from the lungs, while inducing coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Asthma can also enhance bronchospasm and severely tighten chest muscles, making it difficult to breathe normally.
Since the 1970s, asthma has significantly increased across the globe. In 2009, asthma led to 250,000 deaths globally, with an estimated 300 million people affected worldwide. While asthma continues to be a global medical issue, it can be controlled with proper medicine and therapy.
Causes of Asthma and Symptoms
Medical experts believe asthma is caused by a combination of generic and environmental factors. While some people are born with asthma, others acquire it through extensive contact with allergens and irritants. This includes dust, ragweed, pollen and other potentially harmful triggers. Direct contact with foreign substances, such as asbestos and dangerous airborne agents, can also lead to asthmatic conditions. Despite theories, asthma is not contagious and only affects the respective individual.
While common symptoms include shortness of breath and panting, asthma can co-exist with other medical conditions as well. This includes Gastro-esophageal reflux disease, which increases pressure to the lungs and results in chronic aspiration. Since proper airflow is severely restricted, sleep disorders are also associated with asthma. If not treated in a timely and proper manner, asthma can lead to serious respiratory problems.
Environmental and Genetic Factors
There are several environmental and genetic factors that are associated with asthma. For one, pregnant mothers who smoke pose a greater risk of asthma for their children. This includes pre-natal and post-delivery smoking, which can result in respiratory illnesses in kids.
From traffic pollution to high ozone levels, low air quality is also attributed to asthma development. In fact, recent studies have shown a direct link between air pollutants and childhood asthma. The studies further showed that extensive exposure and inhalation of air pollutants leads to long-term respiratory damage. This includes contact with high levels of endotoxin that affect the immune system as well.
In addition to air pollutants, viral respiratory infections can also increase asthmatic conditions. These infections can be contracted by poor hygiene, or by visiting areas with diminished air quality. While stress is not a direct cause of asthma, researchers believe it can enhance asthma levels in people. Stress modulates the immune system, which increases the magnitude of airway inflammatory conditions. Therefore, the response to allergens and irritants may be delayed or even dormant.
Other factors causing asthma include heavy antibiotic use, Beta-blocker medications, and even Caesarean sections that modify the immune system. Genetic factors also play a pivotal role in developing asthma. A recent genetic association study identified over 100 genes with direct links to asthma. In 2005, 25 of those genes had been associated with asthma in six or more separate populations.
Asthma Treatment Options
While asthma continues to affect millions of people, there are numerous treatment options available. These viable options effectively manage asthma, and enable sufferers to lead normal and even healthier lives. They can even prevent severe asthmatic attacks, while helping to improve airflow and restore proper functionality.
The first line of defense is to create a proactive plan. In order to do this, you must first speak to your doctor or primary care physician. He or she can help you formulate a plan that is essential to managing asthma and preventing triggers. This includes reducing exposure to allergens and irritants, while testing medication usage to meet your needs. Asthma patients should also keep a track of all medications, and report modifications and changes of symptoms to their respective physicians. The plan should also eliminate exposure to cigarette smoke, pets, and even aspirin.
While avoiding asthma triggers is important, medical treatment is still recommended. For short-term relief, Bronchodilators can open up airways and increase airflow to the lungs. For persistent asthma, glucocorticoids, oral leukotriene antagonists, or mast cell stabilizers are recommended. These treatment options can safely tackle weekly or even daily attacks.
Medications are also implemented to help treat asthma sufferers. There are two classifications; one for quick relief, and the other for long-term control and exacerbation prevention. For fast acting results, Doctors mainly prescribe beta2-adrenoceptor agonists, such as salbutamol (albuterol). Other medicines include ipratropium bromide and epinephrine. For long-term control, glucococorticoids, long acting beta-adrenoceptor agonists, zafirlukast, and cromolyn sodium are used. These medicines are usually inhaled via meter-dosed inhalers, and provide much needed relief.