Asthma is a widespread lung illness that causes the airway to narrow and become inflamed, thereby restricting the flow of air. It is a chronic illness, which means it is likely to recur. To further narrow the airways, the cells along the passage to the lungs produce a lot of mucus. The disease is characterized by coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and tightness in the chest.
Other signs to look out for include the inability to speak in complete sentences, agitation, confusion, and strained muscles of the neck and abdomen, which will lead to hunched shoulders.
Often, one also gets the feeling that you need to sit or stand to widen the airway. It is generally long-term, which means that a sufferer is likely to have the disease for as long as they live. One can also get asthma at any stage of life.
The causes of asthma are not well understood. However, it does seem to have a genetic component since the condition runs in some families. In most children, an asthmatic attack occurs early in the morning or in late in the evening. An asthma attack can be set off by various things. These are known as triggers. They can be environmental factors such as pollen, dust, and smoke. Stress can also trigger an attack. Other culprits include vigorous exercises and certain medication.
To rule out any other cause, asthma is confirmed once the doctor carries out a series of tests. However, in a large number of children diagnosed with asthma, the condition tends to decrease in severity with time. Attacks can sometimes be so mild that they resolve on their own with no medical intervention.
At other times, removing the victim from the environment that triggers the attack is sufficient. An asthma sufferer usually needs to have an action plan, which has an emergency response to an attack. It also requires daily steps that have to be followed so as to keep the attacks at bay.
Asthma has no cure, which means that only attacks can be managed as and when they appear. Even when one does not experience an attack for a long time, this is simply a remission. The underlying inflammation that causes an attack is still present. The genetic predisposition to the disease, of course, does not go away.
Symptoms can become worse if they are not treated immediately. So, direct and swift action is usually the most beneficial. It is important to bear in mind that an asthma attack can progress fast and prove fatal.
The first thing to do in an attack is rush the patient to a hospital before things worsen. Waiting for the enhancement of symptoms could prove deadly. Most asthma sufferers carry an inhaler or nebulizer with them. This is the first line of defense when one notices the onset of an attack. If you have glucocorticoid medicine with you, it should be taken on your way to the hospital.
Once you get you get to the hospital, your doctor will use your nebulizer after assessing your condition. If your condition is more serious, then he will administer epinephrine and corticosteroids. Other drugs like terbutaline and magnesium sulfate are administered to open up the airways.
Should the medicines fail to work, then you will be wheeled into the intensive care unit where a machine known as a mechanical ventilator will keep your airway open. For it to do this, the doctor connects a face mask and tube to your nose or mouth. Once the doctors have stabilized the attack and you can breathe on your own, the ventilator is removed.
Reasons Why Your Asthma Could Get Better
As mentioned earlier, most kids’ asthma will improve so much that they are put off medication. However, it would be erroneous to assume that just because you have not had an attack in weeks, months or years, you are out of danger. Some common reasons for asthma going into remission as you grow older are:
• As you age, your body becomes less delicate and sensitive and can handle greater distress. The same goes for your airways and lungs, which in turn, can reduce the severity of your symptoms.
• As you grow, so do your lungs and airway. Thus the diameter of your airway that would result in an asthma attack when you were a kid might not have the same effect for an adult.
• Kids do not have the freedom of choice. As such, they might not be in a position to do away with some triggers of their condition like a family pet or their locality.
• Fun activities for kids usually involve rolling round in grass, hay, and dirt, which could all act as triggers for an asthma attack. With maturity and adulthood, you are less likely to partake in these activities.
• Exercising more improves your overall health. It opens up the airways and strengthens the lungs, which could diminish your asthma.
• Losing weight makes asthma medicine more effective. In addition, weight makes the body unfit, so there is more coughing and wheezing, which could trigger an attack.
• You could have upgraded to the best asthma drug, which would make you think that you are totally cured.
• Some diseases could have similar symptoms to asthma. As you grow older, you might realize that what you had as a child was a throat or lung infection and not asthma.
Since there is a small likelihood that your asthma will at one time sneak in an attack when your defenses are down, it might be a good idea to be prepared. You do not have to tote an inhaler 20 years since your last attack. However, knowledge is a powerful ally.
Let your family know that you once had the condition and what they should do in the event of an attack. The same goes for your colleagues at work. Finally, the answer to the question of whether your asthma will ever go away is- maybe.
Dr. Samuel S. Becker, MD is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a board-certified specialist in otolaryngology. He practices as an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor in New Jersey and Philadelphia.
*This article is contributed by Farlyn Lucas. For further info, read my disclaimer here.