Inflammation Of The Airway That Leads To Asthma
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Inflammation Of The Airway That Leads To Asthma

In treating asthma, doctors seek long-term suppression of the airway inflammation that triggers asthma attacks, plus reopening the airways when they do constrict.

Asthma may resemble other respiratory problems such as emphysema, bronchitis, and lower respiratory infections. It is under-diagnosed -- many people with the disease do not know they have it. Sometimes the only symptom is chronic cough, especially at night, or coughing or wheezing that occurs only with exercise. Some people think they have recurrent bronchitis, since respiratory infections usually settle in the chest in a person predisposed to asthma.

Asthma is a chronic, inflammatory lung disease characterized by recurrent breathing problems. People with asthma have sensitive air passages (bronchial tubes) in their lungs that react to "triggers," causing the airways to become inflamed, narrow and filled with mucus. During an asthma flare-up (attack), air cannot enter or leave the lungs normally. The person complains of tightness in the chest, has trouble breathing and may cough and wheeze. Mild to moderate symptoms can be treated at home, but severe episodes require a doctor's care or even a hospital stay. Some episodes are life threatening and require immediate medical attention at an emergency room. An asthma attack often disturbs sleep, results in lost school or work days and disrupts or prevents participation in physical activities.

Each person with asthma has an individual set of triggers that can provoke an asthma attack. Here is a list of some common triggers:

  • allergens such as house dust, mold, animal dander, and pollen
  • irritants in the air such as pollution, cigarette smoke, gases and odors
  • respiratory infections such as colds, flu and bronchitis
  • breathing very cold air
  • medications, such as aspirin and drugs used to treat glaucoma and high blood pressure

In some people, asthma has no identifiable trigger, it is important to know that asthma is not caused by emotional factors -- as commonly believed years ago. Emotional anxiety and nervous stress may affect the immune system and increase asthma symptoms or aggravate an attack. However, these reactions are considered to be more modulating influence than a cause.

While an episode may come on quickly, there are usually warning symptoms a few hours or a few days before an asthma attack. These early signals vary from person to person, but common signs include light coughing or wheezing, a scratchy throat or tightness in the chest. To prevent episodes, people with asthma should avoid triggers and take preventative medication as directed. A peak flow meter can help people with asthma monitor how well their lungs are functioning. Because lung function decreases even before symptoms of an attack appear, the meter can show when an attack is coming on, so one can take steps to ward off a severe flare-up.

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