National Asthma Day - Causes of Asthma
Asthma is a disease characterised by an over-enthusiastic allergic response within the airways. Without going into lengthy medical detail about how the body responds to allergy, the airways become sore and inflamed, shedding some of the surface cells and revealing nerve endings. They may cover themselves with extra mucus in an attempt to soothe the inflammation, they may swell, and they may constrict, known as bronchospasm, or become twitchy and hyperreactive.
This over active immune response leads to several symptoms. Most people think of asthmatics as having what they call ‘proper asthma attacks’ where a person is unable to breathe, but the disease has broader symptoms than that. A person with asthma may have a wheeze. The type of wheeze is often quite specific and is usually an expiratory wheeze, one that is heard on the out breath. There may be a chronic cough, chest tightness or difficulty breathing (‘the asthma attack’). There may be just one symptom, or a mixture of several.
Do You know what to do if someone is having an attack? Learn more here.
Asthma should be suspected if an individual experiences recurrent symptoms, as given above, if those symptoms are worse in the early morning and at night, if there is a family history of asthma, allergy or ear infections, or if their symptoms become worse after exposure to certain triggers.
Although asthma is an autoimmune illness and therefore not caused by external factors, certain external factors can bring on the symptoms or make the symptoms worse, these are known as triggers. Common asthma triggers include:
Exercise, when the person experiences a sudden worsening of symptoms in response to exercise, these symptoms will continue for some while even when the person stops exercising.
Viruses, many asthmatics experience a worsening of their symptoms in response to cold or sore throat virus.
Emotions, such as a bout of laughter can trigger symptoms in some people.
The weather, asthmatics may find breathing difficult in specific weather, such as humid weather, or cold dry weather, windy weather, or simply during the change from one type of weather to another.
Allergens, such as cigarette smoke, pollen, animals, house dust, other types of dust can all trigger asthma symptoms.
Medication, symptoms may be triggered after taking aspirin, or NSAID drugs (non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs) commonly used as pain-killers, such as Ibuprofen or Diclofenac.
If an individual suspects they or their child has asthma it is important that they see an asthma nurse or doctor, to get a diagnosis, as asthma kills a significant number of people annually, even those who say they have ‘never had an asthma attack’ are at risk. Sadly many of these deaths could be avoided with good symptom control. Asthma is most often controlled by using inhaled medication in small metered doses, and it is important for the asthmatic to be reviewed regularly by their asthma nurse, who will monitor symptoms and exacerbations, and who will prescribe medication accordingly. Click here to learn about the treatment of asthma.