Asthma

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    Definition

    Asthma is a disorder that is characterized by airway constriction and airway inflammation. Patients who have asthma will experience difficulty with breathing. They will wheeze and cough, which is caused by narrowing of the airways and airway inflammation. The cause of bronchospasm can be immunologic in origin, as you would see with those patients that have extrinsic (external) asthma. Conversely, as with patients diagnosed with intrinsic (external) asthma, there may be no clear-cut external immunologic origin, as you would see with patients that develop bronchospasm following exercise, cold exposure, or even emotional stress. 


     

    Symptoms

    The most common symptoms that patients will experience are coughing frequently during periods of exercise, shortness of breath, a wheezing sound either while inhaling, exhaling, or during both inhaling and exhaling, and they will complain that their chest feels tight.


     

    What Happens When Having An Asthma Attack

    In all cases asthma causes the airways to become inflamed. There are three changes that will take place when experiencing an asthma attack and they are as follows:

    • Cells that produce mucus increase their mucus production during the attack. The mucus tends to become very thick and sticky causing the airways to block.
    • The airways (air tubes) tend to become inflamed or swell increasing the airway blockage.
    • The smooth muscles surrounding the airways tighten therefore contributing to increased airway obstruction.

    These causes make it difficult for patients to breathe. Asthma may come on suddenly or may take time, even days, to develop. The attacks can be severe, moderate or mild.

    Severe asthma can lead to the patient becoming breathless. Any activity, including talking, becomes difficult to achieve. Your neck muscles may become tight, your fingertips may turn bluish in color and your breathing muscles may become tight. If this should occur it is extremely important that you seek medical attention immediately. If you permit this severe attack to continue, without seeking immediate medical attention, you could be in very serious medical trouble.

    Moderate to mild asthma attacks may start by your chest feeling tight. You may begin to cough up mucus, feel restless or have difficulty with sleeping. You may have wheezing sounds when you breathe. 


     

    Common Asthma Triggers

    There are a number of common asthma triggers not limited to those listed:

    • Allergic reactions
    • Molds
    • Pollen
    • Animals
    • Dust
    • Dust mites
    • Foods
    • Vigorous exercise
    • Sleep (Nocturnal Asthma)
    • Infections
    • Air pollution
    • Drugs
    • Household products
    • Occupational Dusts and Vapors

    If you are sensitive to any common asthma triggers you should make every effort to avoid them. 


     

    Asthma Medications

    There are three groups of medications used for the treatment of asthma. These medications will help to keep your airways and lungs open.

    • Bronchodilators- these medications are used to help open the airways and to prevent expected attacks, as from exercise.
    • Anti-Inflammatories- these medications are used to help prevent inflammation of the airways from occurring, thereby preventing asthma attacks from starting.
    • Leukotrines Modifiers- these medications help to block the asthma causing chemicals called leukotrines.

    These medications should only be prescribed and used under the direction of a physician. It is important to note that these medications are sold under many brands names and could come in many forms. 


     

    Patient's Role With Asthma

    To help prevent worsening of your disease, it is important that you visit your physician regularly, take your medications as prescribed by your physician and become educated about asthma.


     

    Web Sites That Provide Information About Asthma

    For additional information, please call (631) 444-4000.