By Dr. Pranab Kumar Chowdhury, Internal Medicine
Asthma is a disease which affects the airways that carry air to and from the lungs. People suffering from asthma have swollen or inflamed airways. The inflammation causes the airways to be narrower which causes less air to pass through them into and from the lungs. This causes acute difficulties in breathing. The inflammation also causes the airways to be extremely sensitive to irritations and infections.
What causes asthma?
- Allergens – Asthma can be triggered by exposure to allergens like pollens, animal fur, dust mites, irritants in the air like smoke and odour.
- Physical Activity – Vigorous physical activity can also asthma.
- Respiratory Tract Infections – Infection in the respiratory tract is one of the most common causes of asthma.
- Emotional Excitement – Excessive display of emotion like crying, laughing or shouting can also trigger asthma.
What are the symptoms of asthma?
- Coughing during night, that can range from mild to severe and could be chronic or dry.
- Difficulty in breathing or breathing through the mouth, rapid breathing or frequent breathing infections are common symptoms of asthma.
- There may be a feeling of tightness in the chest.
- You may also hear a whistling sound while breathing.
How will you diagnose asthma?
There are no specific tests to diagnose asthma. However, the doctor will try to ascertain and diagnose the disease through the symptoms such as -
- Whether you have the common symptoms of asthma.
- When the symptoms happen and their occurrence rate.
- Whether you have noticed any source, which triggers your symptoms.
How can asthma be treated and managed?
There is no cure for asthma, but there are medications, which help in reducing the symptoms of asthma. Asthma can also be controlled by learning to avoid the sources, which may trigger it. Your doctor will give you medication depending on your condition and may also give you instructions for using them. The main treatments are:
- Short-acting reliever inhalers – It helps in controlling symptoms for a short period of time and to soothe the breathing tubes.
- Preventative inhalers – Preventive inhalers are used to reduce the inflammation in the breathing tubes and to stop symptoms of asthma.
- Combination of inhalers and long-acting reliever inhalers – It is used everyday to relax the breathing tubes and stop the symptoms for a longer period.
- Steroid injections or oral medications – These are used in acute cases to relieve the symptoms and ease the pain and also allow the patient to breathe normally.
- Spirometry - Spirometry is needed to establish a diagnosis of asthma. It’s a device for measuring timed expired and inspired volumes, and hence indicates how quickly and effectively the lungs can be emptied and filled. It is basically used to diagnose airflow obstruction in patients with respiratory symptoms but is not used to screen for airflow obstruction in people without respiratory symptoms.