Respiratory System and Asthma ~ Health Guide

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Respiratory System and Asthma

Written by Mystic on Sunday, July 24, 2011


Other names :
Wheezy bronchitis.

Introduction :
Asthma is a temporary narrowing of the tubes through which air flows into and out of the lungs.

Types :
Asthma may be spasmodic for no apparent reason (intrinsic), induced by exercise or other known trigger factors (extrinsic), or may be relatively silent and have few symptoms.

Cause :
Asthma is caused by a narrowing of the airways in the lung caused by a spasm in the tiny muscles which surround the air tubes. The problem is further aggravated by the excess production of phlegm in the lungs and swelling of the lung tissue through inflammation. The absolute cause of asthma is unknown, but certain triggers can start an attack in susceptible individuals. The triggers include colds and other viral infections, temperature changes, allergies, exercise, smoke, dust and other irritants. The tendency to develop asthma runs in families along with hay fever and some forms of eczema. If you have a parent with asthma, you have a 15 times greater chance of developing it than the average person.

Incidence :
One of the most common problems dealt with by general practitioners. It affects at least one in ten people in the population to some extent.

Prevention :
Avoiding known trigger factors (eg: foods, fumes, temperature changes), and taking preventative medication on a regular basis.

Investigations :
If asthma is suspected by a doctor, the first step is to perform tests on the lungs to assess their function. This involves blowing into a number of different machines which either draw a graph a doctor can interpret, or give a reading on a gauge. These tests are performed on several occasions at different times of the day before a definite diagnosis of asthma is made. The patient's response to medication is also checked on these machines.

Course :
The narrowing of the airways causes shortness of breath and wheezing. Asthmatics usually find they cannot breathe out easily because as they try to exhale, the lung collapses further, and the small amount of space left in the airways is obliterated. Asthmatic symptoms also include coughing, particularly in children, or a mild tightness and discomfort in the chest. Attacks may build up slowly over many weeks, and the individual may be unaware of the deterioration in his lung function until it is measured. In other cases severe attacks may develop in a matter of seconds after exposure to an irritant.

Treatment :
Asthma cannot be cured, but doctors can control the disease very effectively in the vast majority of patients. The treatment of asthma is a team effort involving the doctor, physiotherapists and other health professionals, as well as the vital cooperation of the patient and his/her parents and family. Many people who have asthma never see a doctor, even though they may be aware of the diagnosis. Although they may feel well, they often do not have their asthma under adequate control. Their quality of life and exercise tolerance could be improved dramatically if a doctor saw them regularly to keep their asthma under review. Once the diagnosis has been established, it is important to identify any trigger substances which might start an attack. This can often be done by the patient on a trial and error basis, but an allergist is usually called upon in severe cases to help in the identification of potential risk factors. The treatment of asthma is divided into two broad categories; prevention of attacks, and treatment of the acute attacks when they occur. Prevention is always better than cure, and all but the mildest of asthmatics should be using one or more of several different types of sprays, inhalers or tablets to prevent attacks (see Medication Table). If one form of prevention does not work, other types should be tried, or combinations used. The best way to treat an attack is by aerosol sprays which take the drug directly into the lungs where it is needed. These can be in the form of pressure pack sprays, inhalers, motor or gas driven nebulisers, or capsules which can be broken and their powder inhaled (see Medication Table). Mixtures and tablets are also available for the treatment of asthma attacks, but they work more slowly and have greater side effects.

Diet :
Any food that triggers attacks should obviously be avoided, but this varies from one patient to another, and there are no general dietary restrictions.

Complications :
Permanent lung damage can result from recurrent attacks of asthma.

Outcome :
Most patients can be adequately controlled, but rarely death from asthma can occur in severe cases. Research into asthma and its control is continuing apace, with the assistance of the Asthma Foundation and other research organisations, and new treatments and control methods are being marketed every year. Asthma is no longer the torture of years past, and the future is looking brighter all the time.

Further information:
The Asthma Foundation is one of the largest and best organised disease related charities in Australia, and can offer a wide range of assistance to patients and their families. Patients with severe asthma should consider wearing a bracelet or necklet with the engraved details of their condition. These are available from the Medic Alert Foundation.

Related conditions
Allergies, Eczema, Hay Fever

I have heard several times said that Ventolin sprays are dangerous, and people should use different things. I have used a Ventolin spray for my asthma for many years without trouble, but now I am worried. Should I stop my Ventolin?

Ventolin, and other similar sprays, were introduced more than twenty five years ago. Over that time they have helped millions of people around the world, and saved the lives of countless asthmatics. Today, these medications remain the principle form of treatment for acute asthma. The side effects are minimal and rare, and they are so safe that they can be purchased from a pharmacy without a prescription, but all asthmatics should have their asthma regularly monitored by a doctor to ensure they are receiving adequate treatment. Prevention is always better than cure, and those who have regular asthma attacks, should be using other medications all the time, in a dose that is sufficient to prevent their asthma. You should not stop your Ventolin, and provided your GP checks your lungs regularly, and you follow his/her advice on further treatment, you have nothing to fear.

I took my son to the doctor with a cough, and she said that he had asthma. I can't believe that this is true. Why would my son develop asthma at the age of 12?

Asthma can develop at any age, but the most common times are at about 2 years, 5 to 7 years of age and at puberty (12 to 14 years). Asthma may be triggered by infections (eg: common colds), allergies, exercise, temperature changes, emotional changes or hormonal changes (different times of the month in women). One of the most common presenting symptoms in children is a persistent dry cough. Once asthma is diagnosed, attacks may occur regularly, seasonally, or very rarely. If regular attacks occur, medication will be given to prevent them. If attacks are infrequent, medication can be used when required. It is very important to receive adequate treatment for asthma, to seek further help if the cough or wheeze continues, and to follow your doctor's instructions carefully. Poorly treated asthma can lead to growth retardation and other long-term problems.

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