What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways in the lungs. These airways are the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. People suffering from asthma have an inflammatory condition that causes their airways to become swollen. This makes them very sensitive to inhaled substances. Once the airways react to these inhaled irritants, the muscles around them tighten, which causes the airways to constrict. This in turn causes less oxygen to flow into the lungs. If left untreated, the swelling may worsen, causing the airways to constrict to a dangerous degree. The cells in the airways react to inhaled irritants by producing more mucus than usual, which also contributes to the further narrowing of the airways.
Asthma affects people of all ages, but it usually begins during childhood. In the United States, there more than 25 million people who are known to have asthma. About 7 million of these people are children.
Exposure to various allergens and irritants can trigger signs and symptoms of asthma. These may include:
- Airborne allergens; such as pollen, animal dander, cockroaches and dust mites
- Allergic reactions to certain foods, such as peanuts or shellfish
- Respiratory infections, such as the common cold or flu
- Extreme physical activity
- Cold air
- Air pollutants and irritants, such as smoke
- Certain medications, including beta blockers, aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen
- Strong emotions and stress
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Menstrual period in some women
Asthma symptoms range from minor to severe, and vary from person to person. Signs and symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness or pain
- Trouble sleeping due shortness of breath, coughing, or wheezing
- Coughing or wheezing attacks that are worsened by a respiratory virus, such as a cold or flu.
The key to stopping asthma attacks is to prevent them from happening in the first place. The long-term treatment plan for such a condition involves learning to recognize the allergens and irritants that trigger asthma attacks, and administering proper medication.
- Short-acting Beta Agonists – These inhaled, quick-relief bronchodilators act within minutes to rapidly ease symptoms during an asthma attack. They include albuterol (ProAir HFA, Ventolin HFA, others), levalbuterol (Xopenex HFA), and pirbuterol (Maxair). These are administered with the use of an inhaler and/or nebulizer.
- Ipratropium (Atrovent) – Ipratropium acts quickly to immediately relax the airways, making it easier to breathe.
- Oral and Intravenous Corticosteroids – These medications relieve airway inflammation caused by severe asthma. They can cause serious side effects when used over the long term, so they’re used only on a short-term basis to treat severe asthma symptoms.
- Inhaled Corticosteroids – These medications include fluticasone (Flovent Diskus, Flonase), budesonide (Pulmicort, Rhinocort), mometasone (Nasonex, Asmanex Twisthaler), ciclesonide (Alvesco, Omnaris), flunisolide (Aerobid, Aerospan HFA), beclomethasone (Qvar, Qnasl) and others.
- Leukotriene Modifiers – These oral medications help relieve asthma symptoms for up to 24 hours. In rare cases, they have been linked to psychological reactions such as agitation, aggression, hallucinations, depression and suicidal thoughts.
- Long-acting Beta Agonists – These inhaled medications, which include salmeterol (Serevent) and formoterol (Foradil, Perforomist), open the airways and reduce inflammation. They are meant for extended use, not for acute asthma attacks.
- Combination Inhalers – These medications combine a long-acting beta agonist with a corticosteroid.
- Theophylline – Theophylline (Theo-24, Elixophyllin, others) is an oral, daily bronchodilator that helps keep the airways open by relaxing the muscles surrounding them.
How to Prevent Asthma Attacks
- Limit Dust Exposure – Most kids spend eight to ten hours a day in their rooms, so removing dust from those areas is very much recommended. You need to:
- Remove and clean carpets and heavy drapes
- Wash stuffed animals frequently
- Regularly wash and change bed linens and pillow cases
- Use allergen-barrier coverings for pillows and mattresses
2. Avoid Tobacco Smoke – Tobacco is a significant asthma trigger. Some people think that smoking in a different room or outside is safe enough, but tobacco smoke gets into your hair and clothes, and your child may inhale it when you come near them. Quitting is the best option, but if that’s not possible, wear different clothes and cover your hair when you smoke.
3. Don’t Keep a Pet at Home – Animal fur is one of the major irritants that cause asthma attacks. It’s better to not have them in your home than to compromise your child’s health.
4. Get Rid of Roaches – This is a common allergen for urban children with asthma, and parents should do all they can to eliminate cockroaches from their homes.