Asthma: What is it, what causes it, and how to avoid exacerbations and triggers

Asthma: What is it, what causes it, and how to avoid exacerbations and triggers

8 May 2020 Health

Asthma is a chronic condition that causes narrowing, irritation and inflammation of the lung’s airways in the presence of certain triggers, such as allergens or pollution. This creates symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath and coughing.

Today, most of us know at least someone with asthma, and we may actually suffer from it ourselves without knowing. Asthma is the most common chronic disease among children worldwide and around 235 million people are living with asthma.  In the developed world, “occupational asthma” is the most commonly occurring work-related lung condition. Treatment and effective management of asthma can save lives.

Types of asthma

Historically, there are four categories of asthma, based on how often a patient experiences its symptoms:

  • Mild intermittent
  • Persistent asthma
  • Moderate asthma
  • Severe asthma

Nowadays, it can also be classified into different categories based on severity which will be measured considering the impact it has on day-to-day activities, and the degree of control with the prescribed treatment:

  • Patients who only need treatment for sporadic asthmatic episodes
  • Patients who need treatment daily

Asthma risk factors

Some clinical features increase the chances that a person will have asthma symptoms associated with the disease, for example:

  • Respiratory symptoms: wheezing (whistling), dyspnoea (difficulty breathing), chest tightness and coughing especially during the night or early morning; Symptoms may be triggered by exercise or after exposure to allergens or for example cold air, animals, smoking, humid environments or after taking certain medication (such as aspirin or beta-blockers)
  • A personal or family history of allergy or atopy.
  • People with moderate to severe asthma have a higher risk of getting severely ill when they get infected by Covid-19 (the Coronavirus) and should take all preventive measures to protect themselves against the virus.

How is asthma diagnosed?

The diagnosis of asthma is suspected when the patient shows certain signs and symptoms such as dyspnoea, wheezing, chest tightness and coughing.

Sometimes these symptoms are present throughout the year, but in most of the cases, symptoms are intermittent and spontaneous, and could be triggered by external factors.

Once your doctor has analysed your symptoms and your clinical history, a simple spirometry test can be done. This measures the amount of air you can breathe in and out of your lungs, and how hard and fast you can breathe out, which can help diagnose asthma. However, on some occasions, despite performing this test, asthma cannot be confirmed.

What is an asthma attack?

Asthma usually presents itself in the form of recurrent episodes (called asthmatic crisis). These episodes are associated with a greater degree of obstruction to normal airflow and can revert naturally or with a specific treatment.

People may experience episodes of asthma that deteriorate, characterised by a progressive increase of the symptoms and a worsening of respiratory functions.

After an asthma attack, it is key to review the treatment and the trigger in order to avoid future attacks. Since several conditions can cause similar symptoms, it is very important to get a proper diagnosis and correct treatment.

You could always reach out to your general practitioner if you are suffering from Asthma and you have any questions. He or she could order some tests, advice you on treatment and what to do if you have an asthmatic crisis, and in some occasions refer you to a specialist. Clients of Foyer Global Health can reach out a doctor 24/7  through our telemedicine services, at no additional cost.

If your case is too complex and requires further analysis, then second medical opinion is the best option as Best Doctors team will go through your relevant medical records and have them reviewed by a world-leading physician in your condition.

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