What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a disease of the respiratory system. Its chief feature is difficult breathing, often accompanied by a wheezing or whistling sound during exhalation. Asthma attacks occur at varying intervals, and the seriousness of the attacks can vary. Between attacks, asthmatics are usually completely free of respiratory symptoms.
What Happens During an Asthmatic Attack?
During an asthmatic attack, the muscles of the smaller bronchi and lungs go into a spasm. The airways narrow and it is more difficult for air to get in and out of the lungs. The lining of the airways becomes congested and swollen and secretes excess mucus, which adds to the breathing problem.
What Causes an Asthmatic Attack?
An asthma attack may be caused by many different things including allergies, respiratory infections, and behavioral and environmental factors.
When allergic asthma occurs mostly in the spring and summer, usually pollen or mold is the cause. When it does not follow a seasonal pattern, it is usually caused by dust, animal dander, food, or drugs.
Respiratory infections are responsible for some asthmatic attacks. This usually occurs in the winter when the largest number of respiratory infections occurs.
Behavioral and environmental factors account for about one-third of all asthmatic attacks. The factors include emotional stress, physical activity, smoking or smoky rooms, and vapors from cleaning products, paint, hair spray, and scents and perfumes.
How Can an Asthmatic Attack Be Prevented?
Asthmatic attacks can be reduced with medication and desensitization injections, but it is more important to prevent the attacks. Some preventive measures are:
- If you are allergic to animal dander, pets should be removed from the home. Get rid of feather or down pillows, mattresses, and bed covers.
- If dust triggers your asthma, make your home as dust free as possible. Use smooth, not fuzzy, bed dressings and change bed linens frequently, use plastic covers on the mattress and pillows.
- If pollen triggers an asthma attack, use an air conditioner with a filter for the bedroom or the entire house. In many cases, desensitization injections are necessary.
- If a particular food is the cause, it should not be eaten.
- Some drugs trigger asthmatic attacks. The most common triggers are aspirin and aspirin-containing compounds. Don't take any medicine without telling your doctor.
- Know how to use prescribed asthma medication, especially inhalers, and use exactly as directed.
When Should a Doctor Be Called?
A doctor should be notified if:
You need to increase a medication.
You have a respiratory infection.
Your temperature is more than 100 degrees.
You have persistent coughing.
What Should Be Done If a Severe Attack Develops?
If a severe attack develops, you must get medical help immediately, go to an emergency room, or call 911 for emergency transportation to a hospital.
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