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A Comprehensive Guide to Asthma: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Bronchial asthma, often referred to as asthma, is a chronic disease that mainly affects an individual’s lungs. It causes severe inflammation in the bronchial tubes (which are also known as airways), making them narrow. Due to this inflammation, these airways become extremely sensitive to certain environmental elements, such as dust, smoke, pet dander, cold air, etc. As a result, one gets an asthma attack as soon as they are exposed to any of these things.

The main role of bronchial tubes is to carry air in and out of the lungs. In an asthma attack, the muscles around the bronchial tubes tighten because of the swollen lining. In addition to that, asthma can also lead to excessive mucus production. This extra mucus makes it difficult for one to breathe and can trigger coughing and wheezing as well.

Although asthma is a condition that is common in children, one can develop it at any point in life. When an individual develops asthma in his/her adulthood, it is known as adult-onset asthma. For some people, asthma is a small problem that can be managed with certain precautions. However, it can be a major issue for some people as it interferes with their daily activities. Sometimes, an asthma attack can also prove to be life-threatening.

Types of Asthma

Depending on the specific triggers, there are several different types of asthma, such as:

  • Exercise-induced Asthma: As the name suggests, this type of asthma is caused by excessive physical exertion. Individuals with exercise-induced asthma (also known as exercise-induced bronchospasm) experience symptoms like difficulty breathing, coughing, chest pain, etc. only during intense exercise or while performing other physically demanding activities. However, this is a condition that can get worse when the air is cold and dry.
  • Occupational Asthma: Occupational asthma is caused by certain elements that an individual gets exposed to at his/her workplace. Some of the common triggers include chemical fumes, certain gases, dust, etc. However, one experiences the same symptoms as those of other types of asthma, including wheezing, coughing, etc.
  • Allergy-induced Asthma: This type of asthma is triggered by certain airborne elements, such as pollen, mould spores, cockroach waste, dead skin particles, pet dander, etc. People with allergy-induced asthma should avoid coming into contact with things they are allergic to in order to prevent any flare-ups.
  • Non-allergic Asthma: Also referred to as non-atopic asthma, this is a condition that is not caused by any environmental elements such as pollen, dust, or something else. It is usually an aftereffect of a severe respiratory infection or can be caused by stress, sometimes.

Causes

There are several different causes of asthma, with genetics being one of them. However, the most common of all is prolonged exposure to certain external elements such as pollen, dust mites, mould spores, pet dander, air pollutants, smoke, specific food items, and medications. However, asthma can also vary from one person to another. Other than this, a number of respiratory infections, such as cold, flu, etc., can also lead to asthma when left untreated for a long time.

Risk Factors

Although lung diseases like asthma can affect anyone, there are a few factors that put an individual at a higher risk of developing this condition. Some of them are:

  • Family history of asthma (parents, siblings, or any other close blood relatives)
  • Certain allergic conditions, such as atopic dermatitis and hay fever
  • Obesity
  • Lifestyle habits, such as smoking
  • Exposure to second-hand smoke
  • Prolonged exposure to exhaust fumes or pollution
  • Certain occupational triggers, such as exposure to harsh chemicals, dust, or other manufacturing waste

Complications

Asthma is a condition that can cause severe discomfort to an individual. Usually, an asthma attack can be managed with the appropriate use of an asthma inhaler. But sometimes it can be so severe that it causes the person’s lips to turn blue due to a lack of oxygen in the blood. One requires immediate medical attention in this situation. Otherwise, it can lead to unconsciousness and loss of life, sometimes.

Here are some of the common complications caused by asthma:

  • Severe asthma symptoms that interfere with daily activities
  • Frequent asthma flare-ups
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Ineffectiveness of asthma inhalers and other medicines

Symptoms

Like any other disease, the warning signs and symptoms of asthma can also vary from one person to another, depending on its severity. However, there are a few common ones that are experienced by almost every individual with asthma. Some of them include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Heaviness in the chest
  • Sharp chest pain
  • Making a whistle-like sound when exhaling (wheezing)
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Persistent coughing

Diagnosis

In order to perform a diagnosis, the doctor will review the medical history of an individual, such as any existing allergies, eczema, or any other lung diseases. Since this condition has a genetic component as well, he/she may also ask about the family history of asthma. Depending on the symptoms one has been experiencing, the doctor may suggest a chest X-ray and a few blood tests as a part of asthma testing. In addition to that, spirometry is another effective method used for the same. Also known as PFT or Pulmonary Function Test, it is used to measure airflow through the lungs and is also used to monitor the progress of an ongoing treatment.

Treatment

Asthma is a chronic condition, which means it can’t be cured completely and needs consistent medical management. With the right precautions and medication, the symptoms can be eased. Since asthma also changes over time, it is also important to keep in touch with the doctor, who will track the signs and make any necessary adjustments to the treatment.

Asthma treatment can vary from oral medicines to inhalers and injections. Sometimes, one may also need nebulization with specific medication, as it can provide instant relief. Generally, the medication depends on the type of asthma an individual has and the severity of the asthma attack.

Home Remedies

It is always recommended to take medicines that have been prescribed by the doctor as part of the asthma treatment. However, there are a few simple remedies that one can try at home to get some relief. These remedies can help clear up nasal congestion and airway irritation with zero side effects. Some of them are:

  • Taking a hot shower and steam bath
  • Consuming warm water
  • Salt water gargles

Other than this, one can also consider taking herbal asthma therapy, which involves the use of herbs like ginger, turmeric, etc. for steaming. All these herbs are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and can ease asthma symptoms. However, it is best to consult the doctor before starting any such therapy, as sometimes it can interfere with the ongoing treatment and reduce the effectiveness of certain medicines.

When to See a Doctor?

Sometimes, asthma attacks can get really severe, followed by intense coughing and shortness of breath. If left unattended, they can prove to be life-threatening as well. So, it is important to watch out for any signs that indicate a worsening of the condition.

Here are a few common signs that indicate an asthma emergency:

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Excessive wheezing
  • No relief even after using an inhaler

If an individual experiences any of these warning signs, it is important to consult the doctor right away.

Things to Keep in Mind

While there is no proven way to prevent asthma, there are certain things one can do to reduce the occurrence of asthma attacks and lead a healthy life.

  • Follow a Proper Plan: When an individual gets diagnosed with asthma, the doctor comes up with a step-wise action plan to manage the condition. This includes medication and the necessary precautions that one needs to take. To avoid any kind of complication, it is best to stick to that asthma management plan and follow it properly.
  • Visit the Doctor: Asthma is an ongoing condition that needs regular monitoring. So, it is important to consult the doctor on a regular basis (as advised) so that he/she can track the symptoms and make any changes in the treatment if required.
  • Get Vaccinations: Although there is no specific cause of asthma, certain factors, like respiratory infections, are known to worsen the condition. So, it is important for people with asthma to get themselves vaccinated for influenza and pneumonia.
  • Identify and Avoid Triggers: Everyone has his/her own specific triggers that lead to asthma flare-ups, such as pollen, mould, cold air, pollution, etc. For individuals dealing with this condition, it is important to identify all such triggers and take the necessary steps to avoid them altogether.
  • Monitor Symptoms: There are a number of warning signs that indicate an impending asthma attack, such as slight coughing, wheezing, or breathlessness. Individuals with this condition should recognise all of these signs so that an asthma attack can be prevented by taking appropriate medicines or any other precautionary steps.
  • Take Medicines Regularly: Other than asthma inhalers, the doctor usually suggests a few oral medicines as well to ease the symptoms. These medicines are prescribed depending on the type of asthma one has. So, it is important to take those medicines regularly, even if the condition seems to be improving.
  • Track Inhaler Usage: Asthma inhalers are basically used to provide quick relief from any kind of discomfort. However, these inhalers should always be used within a certain limit. If an individual completely relies on a quick-relief inhaler, this indicates that the condition is not under control. In such situations, it is best to consult the doctor, who may make any adjustments to the ongoing treatment plan.

Dr B. Lal Clinical Lab is a leading diagnostic centre in Jaipur, offering a wide range of lab tests at reasonable prices, including asthma testing. One can easily book a test online and avail of quick home sample collection facilities.

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