What Is Asthma? A Quick Guide To Symptoms And Treatment

Dr. Sneha Ganatra
November 17, 2020

When it comes to respiratory illnesses, chronic respiratory diseases (CRDs) are those related to the lungs or other parts of the airways. Some of the more common types are pulmonary hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, occupational lung disease and asthma. Though these have no cure, management is the best way to treat them. Respiratory illnesses can cause an unimaginable level of discomfort to those who are afflicted and being informed about common conditions like asthma can help immensely.

It is possible to develop CRDs like asthma disease during the early years of childhood. For this reason, it is imperative that you understand all you can about this chronic, potentially life-threatening condition. Doing so can help you stay aware of the early signs and potential triggers and lead to an early diagnosis for timely treatment. To that end, here’s all you need to know about asthma.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that has no cure and relies on proper management as treatment. It is an inflammatory disease, which makes breathing very difficult thereby limiting the affected in many ways. For some, even the smallest amounts of physical activity can be extremely challenging and for others, it may be near impossible to get through it without triggering an attack.

An asthma attack or its symptoms occur when the lining of the airways swell up and the muscles surrounding them tighten, effectively getting narrow. This, in addition to the mucus build-up, makes it very difficult for air to pass through. These attacks can be mild with slight discomfort in breathing or be life-threatening and require immediate medical attention.

Asthma causes

While there is no one single cause for the condition of asthma, there are several factors that experts believe can cause such a breathing problem. Genetics play a major role in determining whether or not someone may develop the problem. Similarly, those affected by severe viral infection during childhood are also susceptible and more likely to develop it.

Besides these causes, it is also important to note the various triggers that cause an asthma attack. These vary based on the different types of asthma, and each type is further differentiated by either onset or activity. Here is a breakdown of these.

  • Adult-onset asthma: This is when asthma develops during adulthood and is more likely to present with persistent symptoms. Stress, smoking, obesity, hormones and other respiratory illnesses can trigger asthma attacks for this type.
  • Cough-variant asthma (CVA): Characterised by a persistent cough, which can devolve to more common symptoms if left untreated.
  • Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB): Occurs within minutes of exercise or physical exertion. It is found that a vast majority of asthmatics also have EIB, up to 90%, but not all with EIB will present with other types as well.
  • Occupational asthma: This type is caused by the triggers present in a workplace and can be common in a range of industries. Common lines of occupation include farming, woodworking, textiles and manufacturing.
  • Extrinsic asthma: Brought on by allergens and can be seasonal for some. Mold, pollen, dust, pet dander and certain foods can be common triggers.
  • Nocturnal asthma: One in which symptoms worsen at night, normally due to dust mites, pet dander and heartburn.
  • Intrinsic asthma: This type of asthma is brought on by irritants that aren’t allergens. Good examples include perfumes, cleaning products, cold air, pollution, viral illnesses and cigarette smoke.
  • Aspirin-induced asthma (AIA): Otherwise known as aspirin-exacerbated respiratory disease (AERD), it occurs as a response to aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID). Commonly considered to as one of the more severe types of asthma.

Asthma symptoms

Given that asthma restricts air supply to the body, there are many common symptoms that are fairly easy to notice. They are as follows.

  • Wheezing
  • Squealing sound when breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty talking
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Coughing, severe in some cases

If any of these, especially coughing and wheezing, are worsened when infected with the cold or flu, then you should consult a specialist for a proper diagnosis.

Asthma treatment

Asthma treatment is split into 3 categories. These are breathing exercises, long-term medications and quick-relief treatments. Read on to know more about them.

  • Breathing exercises: Increasing the amount of air you can inhale and exhale can help increase lung capacity, which is known to help keep severe symptoms at bay.
  • Long-term medication: These are taken daily to keep symptoms under control but offer no relief during an attack. Common medications include long-acting bronchodilators, anticholinergics, biologic therapy drugs, and anti-inflammatories.
  • Quick-relief treatment: Bronchodilators, often as inhalers or nebulizers, offer relief within minutes and relax the muscles that have tightened in the airways. About 2 to 6 puffs of the inhaler should offer relief, and if it doesn’t, medical care is necessary.

Asthma prevention

While it isn’t possible to prevent the development of this condition, you can very easily prevent an attack from happening. Here’s how.

  • Steer clear of known allergens
  • Take the recommended preventive medication
  • Pay special attention to triggers
  • Get allergy shots regularly

Asthma is also commonly mistaken for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and for this reason, being informed is key. As the asthma disease can occur at any age, unlike COPD, even during infancy, being aware of all the relevant factors can help you address the situation better. With such a respiratory condition, preventing an attack is your best bet, but this isn’t always possible. This is why it is recommended that you seek advice and treatment from a medical specialist to help keep the symptoms from spiralling out of control. With the Bajaj Finserv Health app, this is easy to achieve as it grants you access to an entire suite of benefits when it comes to finding and leveraging healthcare.

Using this app, you can find the best respiratory and other specialists in your vicinity, book appointments online and e-consult with doctors over video. Given how asthma attacks can be quite serious, video consultations can come in handy as doctors can offer solutions without delays, while you stay comfortable at home rather than wait in queues. What’s more, you can also maintain digital patient records and track health vitals, which can then be sent to specialists in an instant. This helps doctors react proactively to an attack and thus ensures that you get the required asthma treatment in time. To get access to these features and benefits, download the app for free on the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store today!