Asthma is a disease affecting the airways that carry air to and from your lungs. People who suffer from this chronic condition (long-lasting or recurrent) are said to be asthmatic.
The inside walls of an asthmatic's airways are swollen or inflamed. This swelling or inflammation makes the airways extremely sensitive to irritations and increases your susceptibility to an allergic reaction.
As inflammation causes the airways to become narrower, less air can pass through them, both to and from the lungs. Symptoms of the narrowing include wheezing (a hissing sound while breathing), chest tightness, breathing problems, and coughing. Asthmatics usually experience these symptoms most frequently during the night and the early morning.
For information on the different causes of asthma (allergy, colds, stress, exercise, etc) please see page 4 (causes of asthma).
Asthma is Incurable
Asthma is an incurable illness. However, with good treatment and management there is no reason why a person with asthma cannot live a normal and active life.
What is an Asthma Episode / Attack?
An asthma episode, or an asthma attack, is when symptoms are worse than usual. They can come on suddenly and can be mild, moderate or severe.
What happens during an asthma attack?
- The muscles around your airways tighten up, narrowing the airway.
- Less air is able to flow through the airway.
- Inflammation of the airways increases, further narrowing the airway.
- More mucus is produced in the airways, undermining the flow of air even more.
Asthma Attacks Vary
In some asthma attacks, the airways are blocked such that oxygen fails to enter the lungs. This also prevents oxygen from entering the blood stream and traveling to the body's vital organs. Asthma attacks of this type can be fatal, and the patient may require urgent hospitalization.
Asthma attacks can be mild, moderate, severe and very severe. At onset, an asthma attack does allow enough air to get into the lungs, but it does not let the carbon dioxide leave the lungs at a fast enough rate. Carbon dioxide - poisonous if not expelled - can build up in the lungs during a prolonged attack, lowering the amount of oxygen getting into your bloodstream.
See Your Doctor
If you suffer from asthma you should see your doctor. He/she will help you find out what triggers your asthma symptoms and how to avoid them. You will also be prescribed medications which will help you manage your asthma.
With experience you will learn to keep away from things that irritate your airways, know when to take your medication, and better control your asthma. Effective asthma control allows you to take part in normal everyday activities.
Consequences of Not Controlling Your Asthma
If you don't control your asthma you will miss school or work more often and you will be less likely to be able to take part in some activities you enjoy. In the USA and Western Europe, asthma is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism.
Menstrual Cycle Affects Asthma Severity
A woman’s respiratory symptoms, including those of asthma, tend to worsen between day 10 to 22 of her menstrual cycle, researchers from Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen, Norway, found. They reported their findings in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine (November 2012 issue).
The authors added that wheezing symptom severity dipped during ovulation (days 14 to 16). Patients with asthma, regular smokers and those with a BMI (body mass index) of more than 23 tend to experience more coughs immediately after ovulation.
Head researcher, Ferenc Macsali, MD, said "The effects of the menstrual cycle on respiratory symptoms in the general population have not been well studied. In a cohort of nearly 4,000 women, we found large and consistent changes in respiratory symptoms according to menstrual cycle phase, and, in addition, these patterns varied according to body mass index, asthma, and smoking status."