Asthma Understanding the Basics of this Immune-Related Disorder

Asthma Understanding the Basics of this Immune-Related Disorder {


Asthma Understanding the Basics of this Immune-Related Disorder {

Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition affecting millions of individuals worldwide. In this article, we will delve into what asthma is, its prevalence, signs and symptoms, and causes.

What is Asthma?

Asthma Understanding the Basics of this Immune-Related Disorder {

Asthma is an immune-related disorder that results in the narrowing of airways when a susceptible person encounters certain environmental stimuli such as pollen and dust. The constriction of the airways is usually reversible but causes great difficulty in breathing at the time of the asthma attack. If left untreated, severe asthma can cause respiratory and cardiac arrest followed by death.

Although the condition is commonly referred to as wheezing, it is important to understand that wheezing is the abnormal breathing sound heard in asthmatics. It is a symptom. Wheezing can occur in other respiratory conditions as well.

Overview of Asthma

The worldwide incidence of asthma seems to have increased within the past forty years. This is often attributed to the environmental and lifestyle changes in various countries caused by rapid industrialization. It is estimated that about 4% to 7% of the world’s population suffers from asthma. In the USA alone, more than twenty million people are thought be suffering from this disorder.

Asthma affects individuals of all ages. It is one of the most common chronic ailments seen in children. Both males and females are equally susceptible.

Signs and Symptoms of Asthma

Asthmatic patients usually do not show any symptoms until an asthma attack is triggered. Asthma is often related to two other allergic conditions – allergic rhinitis and atopic dermatitis (eczema) – and are collectively known as the allergic triad.

The following symptoms are caused by the constriction of the airways (bronchioles) during an asthma attack:

  • Dyspnea which is difficulty breathing
  • Feeling of tightness in the chest which makes it hard to breathe
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing sounds during breathing (mostly during exhalation)

Many of these symptoms worsen at night time, causing patients to awaken from their sleep.

Diagnosis of Asthma

Asthma is diagnosed on the basis of physical examination, medical history and lung function tests. Since the symptoms of asthma are non-specific, it is important that other causes are ruled out before arriving at a diagnosis of asthma.

Pulmonary function tests are performed on suspected asthma patients to determine the extent of airway obstruction. Chest X-rays may also be done to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms. Allergy testing may be done in patients whose medical history suggests that asthma attacks are precipitated by certain allergens.

Asthma Pathophysiology

The airways, specifically the bronchi and bronchioles (windpipes in common terms) leading to the lungs, are the main site where the problem lies. A variety of inflammation-causing cells of the immune system such as TH2 cells, eosinophils, mast cells, neutrophils and CD4+ cells infiltrate the walls and the smooth muscles of the airways.

These pro-inflammatory cells release chemical substances that stimulate growth of smooth muscles and fibroblasts, causing significant changes in the structure of the airways. The proliferation of the smooth muscles narrows the airways and makes them hyper-reactive to allergens.

This increased hyper-reactivity of the airway muscles to the allergens causes further constriction of the airway passages, leading to difficulty in breathing. Swelling in the already thickened airway walls and mucus build up with inflammation also contribute further to narrowing and hampers air flow to the lungs.

Wheezing and complaints by the patient that they find it hard to breathe are simply symptoms of asthma.

Asthma Causes

Both genetic and environmental factors have been implicated in causing asthma. The exact cause, however, remains unknown. Some people develop asthma due to exposure to certain substances like cigarette smoke, pollution, or other irritants while others may have a family history of the disorder.

Stress has also been linked to the exacerbation of asthma symptoms. Other risk factors include obesity, respiratory infections, and poor air quality.

Advice for Asthma Patients

It is essential that asthma patients take steps to prevent triggering an asthma attack. This includes avoiding allergens and irritants such as tobacco smoke, dust mites, and pet dander. Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy diet can also help reduce the severity of asthma symptoms.

Medications such as bronchodilators and corticosteroids are often prescribed for long-term management of asthma. Inhaled medications deliver the medication directly to the lungs, providing quick relief when an asthma attack occurs.

Opinions on Asthma

Asthma can be a debilitating condition that affects your ability to perform routine activities. However, it is important to remember that with proper management, asthmatics can lead a normal life. With the right medication and avoidance of triggers, asthma can be well-controlled, and patients can go on to lead productive lives.

In conclusion, asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It is important to understand its signs and symptoms, causes and pathophysiology, and how it can be diagnosed and managed. By taking the necessary precautions and following medical advice, asthmatics can enjoy a full and healthy life.

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