All you need to know about asthma

  • By Dr. T Deepa Porkodi

What is Asthma?
Asthma is a Chronic Obstructive Respiratory disorder. There is narrowing of the airways that make breathing difficult.

What causes Asthma?
The causes of asthma may be genetic. Children born to asthmatic parents tend to have a higher chance of developing the condition. It is also triggered by long term exposures to a high level of pollution, cooking fumes and second hand smoking. The underlying pathology is the narrowing of the airways due to the inflammation caused by various irritants. As the airways narrow, they lose their capacity to carry air to the lungs.

It is not only love that takes you by surprise and leaves you totally breathless. Asthma does it too!

What are the symptoms of Asthma?
When one gets an attack of asthma, he/she experiences a great difficulty in breathing. Wheezing and shortness of breath is characteristic of people suffering from asthma. The affected person is often seen ‘gasping for breath’.

What triggers an Asthma attack?
Every person has a different threshold for developing asthma. The severity too, varies in each individual. Common triggers include dust, pollen, animal dander, pollution, cockroach allergens, molds, strong smelling perfumes, etc. Psychological stress can bring on an asthma attack or worsen the existing symptoms. It is believed that stress alters the immune sensitivity of the body and makes the airways more susceptible to irritants, thus bringing forth an asthma attack. Acute bacterial and viral respiratory infections can also cause an attack.
Exercising is known to bring on an attack in predisposed individuals. Asthma can also be brought on due to triggers from the workplace.

How is Asthma diagnosed?
There is no lab test to diagnose asthma. The disease is diagnosed on the basis of the history and clinical presentation. Spirometry is a test that helps in establishing the diagnosis.

Is Asthma curable?
Asthma, unfortunately, is not curable. The person suffering from it has to live the disease all his life and carefully avoid the triggers that can bring on an attack. Medications are available to keep the disease under control. Treated at the right time, asthma can well be brought under control.

What are the treatments available?
Asthma treatment, majorly includes the use of bronchodilators, which help in relaxing the airways so more air can pass and the panting is reduced. The bronchodilators are available in the form of handy pumps that can be carried with you all the time and used easily in a case of an emergency.

Can Asthma be prevented?
There is no proven method to prevent asthma. There are studies that show that quitting smoking while pregnant and after delivery and exposure to pets early on, may bring down the chances of developing asthma. However, these methods need to be studied in great details. Though there is no proven evidence of the effect of the influenza vaccine on preventing asthma, the WHO nevertheless, recommends it.