Asthma: Causes, Signs, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Home Remedies, Prevention
Asthma- This is a pathological condition in which there is narrowing of the airways along with swelling resulting in breathing difficulties coupled with coughing and wheezing. For some individuals, Asthma may be pretty minor and may not affect them in a significant way but in some individuals it can be very severe, interfering with their daily activities.
What Is Asthma?
As stated, Asthma is a medical condition in which the airways become narrow. The airways also swell and start to produce extra mucous resulting in an individual having extreme difficulty breathing. This condition then triggers coughing and wheezing as well. Minor cases of Asthma may not cause too much difficulty for an individual but in some cases where this condition is severe, it can really affect daily activities of an individual and may even become life-threatening. Asthma is incurable but the symptoms produced by it can definitely be controlled.
Causes Of Asthma
Even today, it is still not clear why Asthma does not affect certain individual and severely affects others but studies suggest that it is probably a combination of environmental and genetic factors.
An Asthma attack can be triggered by exposure to allergens and irritants. These allergens are different for different people.
Some Of The Allergens That Can Cause An Asthma Attack Are:
- Airborne allergens like pollen, animal dander, mold, dust mites etc...
- Respiratory infections like cold
- Excessive physical activity
- Cold temperatures
- Inhalation of smoke
- Certain medications like aspirin, ibuprofen, Aleve etc...
- Stress and emotional factors
- Certain preservatives added to certain types of foods/beverages like processed potatoes, beer, wine etc…
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease
- In certain females, menstrual periods can also trigger an Asthma attack.
Who Are At Risk For Developing Asthma?
Following People Are At Increased Risk For Having Asthma:
- People with a blood relative having Asthma
- Having allergic conditions like hay fever etc.
- Exposure to secondhand smoke
- Mother who smoked during pregnancy
- Frequent exposure to exhaust fumes
- Exposure to chemicals used in farming, manufacturing etc..
Signs and Symptoms of Asthma
Some of the Symptoms of Asthma are:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Difficulty sleeping due to shortness of breath and coughing
- Wheezing when breathing out
- Coughing attacks which are worsened by common respiratory infections.
Certain Symptoms Which Signals Worsening Of The Condition Are:
- Frequent Asthma attacks
- Worsening breathing difficulty with attacks
- Frequent use of inhalers
Diagnosis of Asthma
To diagnose Asthma, the treating physician will first need to rule out other potential causes for the symptoms like a respiratory infection or COPD. The physician will conduct the following tests:
- Pulmonary Function Test: This test is done to find out how much can the lungs hold and how much air is taken in and given out by the lungs.
- Spirometry: This gives estimation about the extent of the narrowing of the bronchial tubes.
- Peak Flow Test: A Peak flow meter is a simple device that measures an individual’s capacity to breathe in and out.
Some Tests Which Can Potentially Confirm The Diagnosis Of Asthma Are:
- Methacholine Challenge Test: Methacholine is known to trigger Asthma. The individual is asked in inhale it and if an attack is triggered then it confirms a diagnosis of Asthma.
- Nitric Oxide Test: Not everybody does this test, but this test can also confirm Asthma, as it measures the amount of nitric oxide in the breath and an asthmatic will have higher amount of Nitric Oxide in the breath.
Treatment For Asthma
The basic element is controlling asthma is to prevent Asthma attacks before they start. As stated previously, Asthma cannot be cured but its symptoms can definitely be controlled. The best treatment is to basically assess what triggers an Asthma attack and to stay away from that trigger. Also, important is medication control. Medications for Asthma are of two types, first one is given on a continuous basis for symptom control and the other one is to control an Asthma attack, which springs up out of the blue, in the form of an inhaler like albuterol.
Long Term Medications: To identify the right medication for Asthma control in the long term depends on the age, symptoms, triggers, and the most effective medication for an individual. The purpose of the medications is to reduce the inflammation of the airways resulting in decreased bouts of Asthma attacks.
Some Medications Which Are Used On A Long Term Basis For Asthma Control Are:
Inhaled Corticosteroids: Some medications under this category are fluticasone or Flovent, Pulmicort, Aerobid, Q-Var or Asmanex. If an individual takes these medications it takes a minimum of a few weeks before maximal benefit is observed.
Leukotriene Modifiers: Some medications under this category are: Singulair, Accolate and Zyflo. These medications have been known to cause agitation or aggressive behavior in some individuals in rare instances hence consulting with a physician is required before beginning this category of medications.
Long-acting Beta Agonist: Some medications of this category are: Serevent and Foradil. Some studies indicate that these medications should be taken in combination with corticosteroids or else they increase the risk of a severe Asthma attack.
Combination Inhalers: Medications like Advair Diskus and Symbicort or Dulera come under this category.
Quick-relief or Immediate Relief Medications as stated are used when there is a sudden bout of an Asthma attack. Some medications under this category are: ProAir, Ventolin, Xopenex, Atrovent, prednisone (Only used short term).
In case if Asthma is triggered by allergies, then medications for allergies like allergy shots or Xolair are used.
Bronchial Thermoplasty For Asthma: This is the latest treatment for Asthma. Bronchial Thermoplasty is believed to help asthma patients cut down their steroid intake significantly but it certainly is not a replacement for steroid treatment.
Bronchial Thermoplasty involves catheter insertion in the airway, applying heat to the airway muscles through the catheter at about 65C to destroy the excess muscle of the airway. Asthma sufferers usually tend to have smooth and thick airway muscle and when it contracts due to inflammation it blocks the airway. By destroying the excess muscle of the airway, Bronchial Thermoplasty helps the airway stay open during the bouts of asthma.
This procedure is expected to reduce the asthma attacks by almost 50%.
Home Remedies For Asthma
Few Things Which An Asthmatic Can Do At Home To Decrease The Risk Of Attacks Are:
- Proper air conditioning: It decreases entry of airborne allergens like pollen etc. into the house.
- Make sure that the daily use items, especially in the bedroom, is free of dust and other allergens. Encase pillows, mattresses etc. with dustproof covers. Make sure that the curtains used are clean and dust free.
- Maintain adequate humidity
- If allergic to dander then avoid keeping pets or even if having one, keep the pet well groomed.
- Doing regular breathing exercise like Pranayam goes a long way in treating asthma.
- Add Ginger to your diet. Having a mixture of ginger juice and honey in equal proportions can really help. You can even have a piece of raw ginger to be chewed for a couple of minutes. It will open up your airway and reduce inflammation.
- Consuming strong coffee can also help with Asthma as it helps in clearing the airway.
- Steam inhalation with few drops of Eucalyptus oil mixed in water to reduce mucus.
- Garlic: Regular intake of garlic is very helpful for good health. You can have raw garlic or garlic mixed with milk.
Prevention of Asthma
- To prevent frequent Asthma attacks one should be aware of when to take the medications and should followup with the physician diligently. One needs to chart out a proper plan and needs to stick with the plan on managing attacks. Asthma is a condition which requires close monitoring and treatment.
- Apart from this, getting vaccinated for influenza and pneumonia is also imperative.
- Identify and avoid triggers which precipitate an Asthma attack.
- Regular practice of Pranayam or Breathing exercise can prevent Asthma attack.