Asthma is a chronic disease where the lung airways (bronchi) are inflamed. This causes the airways to narrow. An asthma attack is a when the symptoms become much worse, the smooth muscle cells in the airways constrict and are swollen, and breathing is difficult.
Asthma is similar to several other inflammatory diseases of the lung, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
The inflammation in asthma is reversible, where as with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic bronchitis, inflammation is not considered reversible.
Asthma effects the bronchi, where as with emphysema it is the alveoli which are affected.
Anyone can get asthma at any age, although most people with it are afflicted early in life.
Typical asthma symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in the chest
These symptoms vary widely from person to person and episode to episode. Symptoms can vary from mild through severe. Asthma symptoms may be problematic for some length of time, then vanish for an extended time. Or they may be persistent and continually troublesome.
Managing Asthma Symptoms
There is no know cure for Asthma. It can be managed by avoiding the triggers that set it off, and by reducing symptoms when they occur.
Allergies are a major class of trigger for asthma symptoms. They tend to set off inflammation.
Other triggers, such as smoke, exercise and cold air, make symptoms worse, especially if lung airways are already inflamed.
Symptoms are also managed with medications, especially in severe cases.
Treatment is individual to the patient. Patients must work with their doctor to plan treatment that matches the patient in a variety of situations.
Wheezing and shortness of breath is usually treated with fast-acting bronchodilators, usually administered with pocket-sized, metered-dose inhalers (MDIs). Spacers or nebulizers may also be used, especially for patients that have difficulty using an inhaler.
Other medications include:
- Selective beta2-adrenoceptor agonists such as salbutamol (albuterol USAN), levalbuterol, terbutaline and bitolterol. These agents may cause side effects, especially tremors. Side effects are reduced when inhaled rather than ingested or injected.
- Less selective adrenergic agonists, such as inhaled epinephrine and ephedrine tablets. Cardiac side effects can be a problem.
- Anticholinergic medications, such as ipratropium bromide are effective, but less so than ?2-adrenoreceptor agonists. Side effects are much less than the above alternatives.