Overview of Asthma
When a person has an asthma attack, the airways become
blocked or narrowed. Shortness of breath and other breathing problems are the
result. The symptoms are almost always temporary and easily controlled. But
sometimes the attacks are severe, and in some cases, emergency treatment is
Asthma triggers include
- Cold air
- Non-toxic environmental irritants (dust mites, mold,
pollen, animal dander, cockroach debris)
- Toxic environmental irritants (paint fumes, smog,
aerosol sprays, perfume, tobacco smoke)
- Some viral infections
What Happens During an Asthma Attack?
Here’s how an asthma attack occurs: when an asthma trigger
enters the airways, it goes from the trachea (windpipe) into a series of smaller
tubes called the bronchi and bronchioles. The tissues inside these
tubes become inflamed. The muscles on the outside of the airways tighten up,
causing the airways to narrow. Then mucous enters the airways, and the airways
become swollen. This swelling causes the airways to narrow even more. It’s easy
to understand why this process makes it difficult to breathe.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical
Association points out how effective it can be to reduce exposure to asthma
triggers. During the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, driving in the city was strictly
limited for a 17-day period. Air pollution dropped. In that time, Medicaid
claims for asthma-related emergency care visits and hospitalizations decreased
by about 40 percent. Visits by HMO patients dropped by about 44 percent, and two
large pediatric emergency departments reported an 11 percent decrease.
Asthma medications are typically grouped into two
Long-term control medication
- Inhaled corticosteroids
- Cromolyn and Nedocromil
- Theophylline, sustained release
- Leukotriene modifiers
- Long-acting beta agonists
- Short-acting beta-agonists
- Systemic corticosteroids
If you have asthma, learning how to eliminate exposure to
the trigger that causes the attacks is your best bet for controlling symptoms.
Medications also play a crucial role in asthma management, which we’ll discuss
in the next article.
Journal of the American Medical Association, June 2005