Globally, the occurrence of asthma and allergy in children and adults has been an aggregated problem in the last few decades. The rapid change in the demography of the cities, along with rocketing air pollution, aberrant weather conditions, and unhealthy lifestyles have exacerbated the rampancy of asthma. It often starts in childhood, although it can develop in adults and affects people of all ages.
Asthma is a common lung condition triggered by certain allergens that causes breathlessness, wheezing and coughing. It makes breathing difficult for a person and can make some physical activities difficult or even impossible. This happens because when in contact with an allergen, the mucous membrane gets irritated and as a result, the airways swell up.
The duration of an asthma attack can vary, depending on the caused and the duration of the airways been inflamed. Mild episodes may last only a few minutes and more severe ones can last for hours to days. Mild attacks can resolve spontaneously or with medications. More severe asthma attacks will require appropriate treatment.
Asthma is most often not treated as a critical affliction but doctors are of the opinion that it not only causes severe discomfort but can also be fatal. According to a study conducted by WHO, today, about 235 million people around the world suffer from asthma. There are two major causes of asthma: environmental and genetic. With proper asthma management, people can live a healthy and active lives.
The cold is one of the most frequent triggers for asthma attacks. The cause for asthma is different from person to person and can include:
- Airborne substances, such as pollen, dust mites, mold spores, or particles of cockroach waste
- Respiratory infections such as the common cold
- Physical activity (exercise-induced asthma)
- Cold air
- Air pollutants and irritants, such as smoke
- Certain medications
- Strong emotions and stress
- Food additives
By recognizing the warning signs, you can prevent an asthma episode from getting worse. Warning signs of asthma include
- Frequent cough, especially at night
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling very tired or weak while exercising
- Wheezing or coughing during or after exercise
- Decreases in expiratory flow
- Signs of cold, upper respiratory infection, or allergies like sneezing, runny nose, cough, congestion, sore throat, and headache
- Trouble sleeping
Asthma cannot be cured but it can be successfully managed
- Follow your asthma action plan: Your doctor will help you tailor make a plan, when to take medicines, inhaler etc. to help you control the symptoms before it becomes serious
- Get vaccinated for influenza and pneumonia: This will help prevent asthma flare-ups.
- Identify and avoid asthma triggers: Detailing all the environmental and emotional factors and keeping track of your asthma symptoms for several weeks is very important for asthma. Dust mites, air pollution, cold air, sinusitis are some of the causes of asthma and it is always vital to learn to identify your triggers. Some common asthma triggers are not always obvious, such as moulds and cockroaches.
- Monitor your breathing: Recognize warning signs of an impending attack, such as slight coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath.
- Eliminate the pet factor: For the kids it is always suggested not to keep pets at home if you are children are allergic to it. If that is not possible, at least the kids have to be kept away from the pets.
Asthma attacks could be fatal but are largely preventable and manageable. Breathlessness, coughing and wheezing can likely be worse and the patient may be too breathless to speak. If a person appears to be having an asthma attack, they should sit straight and take slow, regular breaths. Asthma bouts can also be kept under check by using corticosteroid inhalers. Thus, asthma can be kept in check by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and taking the necessary precautions. If you think the symptoms, your experiencing could be a sign of a condition such as asthma, it is adviced to see your doctor immediately. Even though most people with asthma may spend part of their daily lives coping with the symptoms but with proper management , people with asthma can live healthy and active lives. The more one is aware of their condition, the better they can keep it in check.
By Dr. Hirenappa Udnur, Consultant Pulmonologist, Columbia Asia Hospital Hebbal