Asthma is a chronic lung disease that blocks airflow through your bronchial tubes. While it often manifests first in childhood, asthma can present in both kids and adults, and usually becomes a condition that must be monitored and controlled throughout one’s lifetime. Still, most people with asthma can go on to live healthy and normal lives, provided they properly manage their asthma symptoms.
WHAT CAUSES ASTHMA?
Breathing isn’t really something you think about–until something goes wrong. That’s what makes asthma such a stressful condition. Often, your airways function relatively normally. Until they don’t.
Typically, each time you inhale, air moves down the windpipe and through the bronchial tubes. The tubes then lead to air sacs called alveoli. Oxygen passes through the thin walls of the alveoli into the blood vessels. Then, carbon dioxide passes from the blood into those same air sacks to then be exhaled.
Asthma essentially creates a bottleneck in that entire system. The tubes that carry the air (bronchial tubes) get swollen on the inside, they make lots of mucus, and the muscles around the tubes tighten. This causes the tube to be narrowed. That in turn means you can’t get as much air thru the tubes. In some cases, the bottleneck can get so bad that you stop breathing entirely.
- Inflammation: The inside lining of the bronchial tubes becomes inflamed (irritated) which simply means the inside lining gets swollen and narrow.
- Bronchospasm: Smooth muscles surrounding the bronchial tubes constrict (spasm) and cause narrowing of the bronchial tubes.
- Mucus Production: Mucus builds up in the bronchial tubes making the airway even smaller–it may even plug them completely.
So what is the cause of asthma in the first place? The underlying causes of asthma vary–most research seems to point to a combination of genetic and environmental factors that mean some people get asthma while others don’t.
The symptoms of asthma can range from a mild nuisance to a life-threatening emergency. In general, signs of asthma include the following:
- General shortness of breath
- Wheezing, usually when exhaling
- Coughing or wheezing (especially if it gets worse when you have a respiratory virus, such as the flu or a cold)
- You experience trouble sleeping because of your wheezing or shortness of breath
- Tightness in your chest
There may be times when your symptoms flare or become worse. This is usually referred to as an asthma attack. During an asthma attack, your breathing may rapidly become more strained. You should seek immediate emergency attention if:
- Your rescue inhaler makes no immediate improvement to your ability to breathe.
- You are feeling short of breath even if you aren’t engaged in any strenuous activity (or you aren’t moving)
- Your shortness of breath or wheezing rapidly grows worse.
HOW IS ASTHMA TREATED?
Asthma is a chronic condition and it cannot be cured. It’s generally treated by trying to control the symptoms. That is accomplished in several ways:
Avoid Asthma Triggers: Asthma symptoms can sometimes be triggered by certain smells, substances, or allergies. Avoiding these asthma triggers can help you manage and mitigate symptoms. What are some of the triggers of asthma? That could include pollen, air pollution, tobacco smoke, dust mites, or more.
Asthma Rescue Medications: There are a variety of medications that are used to help alleviate the symptoms of asthma attacks. Usually, these medications are only taken after an asthma attack has begun (and they are often delivered via rescue inhaler). But they may also be taken before you expect to encounter possible asthma triggers.
Asthma Control Medications: These are medications that you take on a regular basis to keep your asthma symptoms from flaring or growing worse. These medications are often taken daily–or at least regularly, depending on the severity of your asthma.
At Dakota Allergy & Asthma, we will sit down and work with you to create an asthma treatment plan that works. This plan will determine how you can manage your symptoms and keep your asthma under control.
KNOW WHEN TO GET HELP FOR YOUR ASTHMA
There are many different types of asthma but no matter the trigger, any asthma attack can be scary. Many people find themselves wondering when to seek follow up care. In essence they wonder, “How bad does it have to get before I need to go in?” Dr. Bubak has developed this resource to help you determine when you should get follow up care for your asthma.