Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the airways of the lungs. During an asthma episode or attack, the airways narrow and swell causing breathing difficulties, chest tightness and wheezing.
Asthma symptoms vary in severity. For some people, asthma is only a minor irritation. For others, it can be a major problem that interferes with daily activities and may lead to a life-threatening asthma attack. Symptoms of asthma, such as coughing, often become worse during physical activity or at night.
There are an estimated 235 million people suffering from asthma around the world. It affects people of all ages, but most often starts during childhood. Asthma is also the most common chronic disease among children. Often under-diagnosed and under-treated, its symptoms can be controlled with the right treatment plan.
Asthma symptoms are not the same for everyone. Symptoms can range from minor to severe, and can even change from episode to episode in the same person. Some common signs and symptoms of asthma include:
Symptoms of a severe asthma attack can also include a rapid pulse, sweating, flared nostrils, pursed lips and a bluish discolouration of the lips and fingernails.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your doctor. For those who have already been diagnosed with asthma, monitor your symptoms and regularly review your treatment.
The exact causes of asthma are not completely understood. The strongest risk factors for developing asthma are a combination of genetic predisposition with environmental factors. The airways in a person with asthma are very sensitive and are set off by many triggers. Contact with these triggers cause asthma symptoms. Although triggers differ from person to person, common environmental triggers include:
To diagnose asthma, your doctor will first review your symptoms, medical history and family history. Your doctor will ask about the severity of your symptoms, as well as when and how often they occur. He or she will also want more information about your personal and family histories of asthma, allergies and respiratory illnesses. Afterwards, your doctor will perform a physical examination and conduct some diagnostic tests. An overview of these is provided below.
Your doctor may also order allergy tests, blood tests, and chest and sinus X-rays. The tests will determine whether you have asthma and if there are any other conditions that are contributing factors.
Once you have been given a diagnosis of asthma, your doctor will classify the severity of your condition into one of the four general categories below. Determining your asthma severity is an important part of choosing the most appropriate treatment.
Treatment for asthma generally focuses on preventing inflammation or relaxing the muscles that line airways. It is important to work with your doctor to write an asthma action plan that’s right for you. Below is a list of treatments commonly prescribed.
It is not possible to prevent asthma. However, you can take steps to prevent the symptoms and keep the disease under control. These steps include: