Asthma traumatises 34 million Americans and 300 million people worldwide, of which women and children form a sizeable group (Source: American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology). In America alone, approximately 4000 deaths per year are on account of this chronic and incurable respiratory condition. The figures for missed school days (children) and missed work days (adults) costing billions of dollars is equally staggering. This article will run in three parts answering questions on what typically happens during an asthma episode, what the causes and triggers are along with diagnosis and the latest research findings, available treatment options and lifestyle caveats for those who are victim to the vice-like grip of asthma.
What is asthma characterised by?
In it’s steady state, asthma symptoms include shortness of breath, mild to moderate chest tightness and occasionally night-time or morning cough. When these symptoms worsen asthma is said to have entered it’s acute state and an attack becomes imminent. During exacerbation, symptoms include rapid breathing (dyspnea), moderate to severe tightness of chest and neck (retractions), coughing (sometimes with sputum), wheezing, a rapid heart rate (tachycardia), prolonged exhalation and strident sounds from the lungs, difficulty conversing, and numb limbs. The oxygen deprivation may turn the victim blue (the nails and lips), face pale, panic-ridden and even unconscious.
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (Source: Retrieved March 11, 2009) has defined asthma as a chronic disorder of the airways characterised by variable and recurring symptoms, airflow obstruction, bronchial hyper-responsiveness (bronchospasm) and underlying inflammation.
What exactly happens inside an asthmatic’s body during an asthma attack?
The bronchi (or small tubes that transport air to and from lungs) over-react to some stimuli (see section on causes of asthma) and set-off a chain of events.