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Overview

Asthma is a common inflammatory condition of the airways. Asthma may be caused by a narrowing of the airways or an increased tendency of the airways to react to something, which can trigger asthma, for example dust. In the UK, approximately 5 million people have Asthma and it affects people of all ages.

Description

Asthma is a long-term lung disease indicated by inflammation and narrowing of the airways. The function of the lungs is to supply the body with oxygen from the air. Asthma is a state of inflammation in the lung tissue, which becomes irritated, red and swollen and can increase the production of mucous. At the same time, the muscles surrounding the airways can contract thereby making it difficult for the air to pass.

Causes

Asthma is a long-term condition which means that it cannot be cured, but that does not mean that people with asthma always have symptoms. Causes of asthma and triggers of asthma episodes and attacks include:

  •          Genetic – A family history of asthma is associated with an increased risk of asthma.
  •          Age – Asthma can occur at any age but often occurs before the age of 20.
  •          Irritants in the air – Includes cigarette smoke which can cause or trigger asthma.
  •          Allergens – Substances that cause allergies such as pollens can trigger symptoms.
  •          Weather – Cold air or changes in weather can trigger symptoms.
  •          Medications – Some medicines can trigger symptoms in sensitive individuals.
  •          Emotions – Emotions that change breathing like laughter can trigger symptoms.
  •          Physical activity – Activities that change breathing can trigger symptoms.
  •          Illness – Viral respiratory infections such as the flu can trigger symptoms.

Most of the time, asthma symptoms appear when they are triggered by something that can provoke a response in the body. This is called episodes of asthma or asthma attacks.

Signs and Symptoms

Asthma is characterized by different signs and symptoms.

  •          Coughing – It often happens at night, during exercise or when laughing.
  •          Wheezing – A wheezing sound is heard when breathing.
  •          Chest tightness – Feels like something heavy is lying on the chest.
  •          Shortness of breath – Can happen both when active or at rest.

The symptoms can be constant or happen suddenly as is the case of an asthma attack. A patient can have asthma, even though not all the symptoms are present.

Treatment

The focus of the asthma treatment is to control the underlying causes of the symptoms so the patient can maintain a normal lung function and be physically active. The treatment of asthma is tailored to the individual case.

Self-management

It is important for the patient to be aware of and avoid the things that trigger an episode of asthma such as cigarette smoke, pollens, and dust mites. When this is not enough, medical treatment can be used to control the symptoms.

Medical treatment

Asthma medicines are most commonly administered by inhalation. Inhalation medicines work locally in the lungs where the inflammation of asthma occurs. The medical treatment is divided into long-term control and quick-relief.

Long-term control medicines such as corticosteroids are taken daily as preventive treatment to reduce the frequency and severity of the asthma over time. Quick-relief medicines such as β2 adrenoreceptor agonists are used during acute asthma attacks to control the immediate symptoms. Some β2 adrenoreceptor agonists can also be used as preventive treatment together with corticosteroids to stabilize the airways. Other types of medicine can supplement the long-term control.  

  •          Corticosteroids– Reduce the inflammation in the airways thereby reducing the swelling and irritation. 
  •          β2 adrenoreceptor agonists – Induce relaxation of the muscles surrounding the bronchi thereby increasing the passage of air. 
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