May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month as it is a peak season for people with these conditions and a perfect time to educate about them. Here we are focusing on Asthma Awareness. Asthma, by definition, is an inflammatory disorder of the airways that causes periodic and reversible obstruction to airflow, usually in response to an allergen, a chemical irritant, an infection, or physical stimuli such as cold air or exercise.
Asthma is one of the most common lifelong chronic diseases affecting the lungs and causing repeated episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and coughing at night or early in the morning.
Asthma can be categorized as either extrinsic, or allergic asthma, which makes up 90% of all asthma and typically develops in childhood or as intrinsic, or non-allergic asthma, making up 10% of all asthma cases. Intrinsic asthma develops after age 30 to 40.
Occupational asthma occurs when someone who has never had asthma develops it because of being exposed to something at work. This can happen by developing an allergy to something in the workplace such as mold or being exposed to an irritant such as wood dust or chemicals. It can happen from low levels of exposure over time or a high level of exposure all at once.
How is asthma diagnosed?
During a routine check-up with your physician you may be asked about allergies or discuss symptoms such as coughing a lot, especially at night or early in the morning, having a cold lasting longer than 10 days or missing work or school.
Lung function testing, or Spirometry, measures the largest amount of air you can exhale, or breathe out, after taking in a very deep breath. The Spirometer can measure airflow before and after you use asthma medication.
Signs and symptoms that may increase suspicion of Asthma:
Wheezing, sometimes recurrent
History of a cough that is worse at night, difficulty breathing or chest tightness
Symptoms occur or worsen at night and sometimes wake you up
May also have eczema, hay fever, or family history of asthma
A cold may take 10 days or longer to clear up
Symptoms occur or worsen around things like allergens (animal dander, dust mites, mold, second hand smoke), irritants (air pollution, odors, sprays) or other factors such as cold air, exercise, gastric reflux, viral respiratory infections or sensitivity to certain drugs
What can cause Asthma to develop?
Genetic factors – if someone in your immediate family has asthma then you are more likely to have it
Environmental factors – allergic to mold, dampness or allergens to dust mites or second hand tobacco smoke
Occupational factors – someone who never had asthma develops it because of being exposed to something at work such as mold, chemicals or wood dust
What is an Asthma attack?
An Asthma attack may include coughing, chest tightness, wheezing and trouble breathing. The attack happens in the airways, which are the paths that carry air to your lungs. As the air moves through your lungs, the airways become smaller, just like the branches of a tree are smaller than the tree trunk. During an asthma attack the sides of the airways in your lungs swell and cause the airways to shrink. Less air gets in and out of your lungs and mucous that your body makes clog up the airways.
Common Asthma medicines come in 2 types:
Quick-relief – controls the symptoms of an asthma attack
Long-term control – helps you have fewer and milder attacks, but they do not help during an asthma attack
A person can control their Asthma by knowing their warning signs and triggers, staying away from things that cause an attack to happen, follow an asthma action plan and by following your doctor’s advice.
A personal Asthma Action Plan is a goal to help prevent and control your asthma attacks. The plan is divided into 3 zones. The green zone is when you are doing well, the yellow zone is when your asthma is starting to get worse and the red zone is your medical alert and you may need to seek medical attention.
One way to monitor your asthma severity is by knowing and keeping track of your peak flow measurement. This can be done with a hand held device that measures the air flowing out of your lungs by taking in a deep breath and blowing out hard and fast into the device. A medical provider can assist you in calculating your zone ranges for your personal asthma action plan.
Remember, you can control your asthma by knowing the warning signs of an attack, staying away from the things that trigger an attack and following the advice of your health care provider.