Asthma Handbook Online
by Jamal Khan

 

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic respiratory illness that causes inflammation in the airways of the lungs, characterized by labored breathing, wheezing, and coughing. These symptoms are periodic, and when they happen they are often refered to as an "Asthma Attack".


Image from drGreene

An asthma attack can occur when a person is exposed to certain elements, such as allergens (pollen, mold, dander, dust, etc), which triggers asthmatic symptoms, such as the ones mentioned above. As pictured above, the airways become swollen, the muscles surrounding the airways tightnen, and mucus fills the airways. All of these factors cause airway restriction, which cause the symptoms of asthma.

The causes of asthma are unknown. Due to it being a chronic illness, it is mostly believed to be inherited. As far as asthma attacks and symptoms, each person has different triggers that may cause an attack. For example, some people experience exercise-induced asthma, others are succeptible to pollen or pet dander.

People who are asthmatic can go for years without experiencing an asthma attack, infact, some people even "grow out" of asthma as they enter adulthood. There are also people who suffer from asthma attacks on a daily basis. The severity of asthma depends from person to person.

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Diagnosis
Usually asthma is detected early on in a person's life. A doctor will conduct a phyisical exam on the upper resipiratory tract and chest, listening for wheezing and look for allergy-related symptoms. The primary tool used to detect if a person has asthma is a spirometry, which measures how much air you can exhale after breathing in as much air as you can. A medicine called a broncodilator is administered to see if breathing constrictions are reversible, if they are this is a strong sign of asthma.

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Treatment

Although there is no method to totally cure asthma, there are a variety of ways to treat it, both long and short term.

Long-term Treatment:

  • Anti-inflammatory medicines, which are used on a regular basis to prevent asthma attacks, not during an asthma attack. Examples:
    • Long-term bronchodilators (Famoteral, Serevent)
    • Inhalers (Azmacort, Vanceril, Flovent)
    • Leoukotriene Inhibitors (Accolate, Singular)
    • Other combination medicines (Advair Diskus)

Short-term Treatment:

  • Medicines are used to treat symptoms during an asthma attack.
    • Short-term bronchodilators (Albuterol inhaler, Nebulizer, Proventil, Bronkosol)
    • Oral and Intravenous Corticosteroids (Prednisone, Hydrocortisone)

People with non-severe asthma typically use inhalers on a per-asthma-attack basis. People with severe asthma will want to take preventative medicines (as listed above) and avoid allergens or any other triggers to an asthma attack.

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Prevention

Although asthma itself has no cure, avoiding allergens and respiratory irritators can reduce the chances of an asthma attack. As stated above, different people have different triggers to their asthma attacks, so, for example, if someone's asthma attacks are brought on by pet dander, you would reconsider having that pet or perhaps relocate it to another room. Likewise, if a person's asthma is triggered by dust mites or mold, vacuuming regularly and non-carpeted floors are methods to suppress outbreaks.

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Helpful Asthma Links

 

Sources

"Asthma," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2005
http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

"First Aid - Asthma Attacks." Univeristy of Maryland Medical Center . 2002. University of Maryland. 06 Nov. 2005 <http://www.umm.edu/non_trauma/asthma.htm>.

Greene, Alan. "Allergy." DrGreene . 29 July 2002. 06 Oct.-Nov. 2005 <http://www.drgreene.com>.