Asthma is a chronic lung disease which is considered to be reversible. The bronchial tubes become narrowed or, in severe cases, completely closed, making it difficult to move air in and out of the lungs.
Asthma is characterized by:
- Bronchoconstriction: The muscles that surround the bronchial tubes are involuntary. In asthma, they constrict excessively, which leads to a smaller diameter of the bronchial tubes.
- Inflammation: Inflammation is the hallmark of asthma. When inflammation occurs, the bronchial tubes shed their inner lining (epithelial cells) which leads to swelling and irritable airways. This decreases the diameter of the airways.
- Increased Mucus: Excessive amounts of thick mucus are secreted into the bronchial tubes. This is a result of the inflammation inside the airways.
- Airway Hyperresponsiveness: The inflamed airways become highly sensitive and react to stimuli that have no effect in normal persons. This process correlates with the amount of inflammation present.
An asthma episode (attack) can be described as a worsening of one’s asthma. This worsening results in an increase in airway obstruction and inflammation which cause an increase in asthma symptoms. Symptoms of airway obstruction include shortness of breath, difficulty in catching one’s breath, wheezing, chest tightness and coughing. Some individuals may also feels tired, have lack of energy or get “winded’ easily with activities.
Early and Late Phase Asthma
The early phase of asthma is described as an immediate response to a trigger. During this early phase, symptoms such as wheezing begin quickly and may last for up to three hours. In the late phase of asthma, symptoms begin 4 to 8 hours after exposure to the trigger and may last as long as 24 hours or on occasion even longer. Some people may experience only an early phase response while others may experience both an early phase and a late phase response.
Asthma triggers are those things that cause your asthma to worsen. It is important to be able to identify your individual triggers so that you can avoid them. This will help you prevent asthma attacks.
Common Asthma Triggers
- Allergens: House dust, dust mites, mold spores, pollen and animal dander.
- Bacterial and Viral Infections: The common cold, influenza, sinusitis and bronchitis.
- Irritants: Air pollution, smoke, car fumes, perfume, paint odors and cold air.
- Other: Weather changes, exercise, GE reflex, stress and emotions.
Drugs can Also Trigger Asthma
- Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Agents
- Beta Adrenergic Blocking Agents
- ACE Inhibitors can cause cough
Early Warning Signs of Asthma
Early warning signs are helpful indicators that asthma is worsening. Each individual has a unique set of early warning signs. It is important to identify what your early warning signs are in order to properly care for your asthma.
For example: A common early warning sign may include-experiencing cold symptoms followed by cough and chest tightness resulting in wheezing.
On occasions, when allergies trigger asthma, the first signs may be those of hayfever, such as sneezing, itchy eyes and runny nose.