Asthma is a condition where a person finds it difficult to breathe because their airways swell up, making it difficult for them to breathe. This reaction occurs when the person’s airway comes into contact with an allergen, which in turn triggers and causes it to swell up. Asthma can be divided into two categories depending on the type of trigger – extrinsic (caused by external allergen like pollen, animal dander, dust) and intrinsic (inhalation of cigarette smoke, paint vapour). In some cases it may also be worsened by a chest infection, stress, laughter, etc. Apart from that, some drugs like aspirin and other NSAIDs are also known to cause asthma attacks as well.
Most people with asthma have attacks separated by symptom-free periods. A person might suffer from the symptoms of this condition for anywhere between a few days to a few months. The common symptoms of asthma include:
- Cough with or without sputum (phlegm) production: Continuous cough especially at night is a common sign of lung disease such as asthma. When it comes to children, if your child coughs a lot and vomits during a bout of coughing, it is time you took him/her to the doctor as it could be a sign of asthma.
- Chest tightness: As your airways become increasingly inflamed they tend to get filled with mucous. Apart from that, due to the constant coughing the muscles of your chest tend to contract making you experience tightness in the chest. A common explanation of the symptom is that you might feel a kind of pulling in of the skin between the ribs which is due to your lungs inability to take in air.
- Breathlessness: This symptom is due to the inflammation which irritates the muscles around the airways and narrows it down. So, it becomes difficult for air to get in and out of the lungs, hence you feel breathless.
- Wheezing: When you can hear a whistling or hissing sound while breathing, it is called wheezing. This is very commonly observed in asthmatic patients.
- Sudden onset: This is otherwise known as adult onset asthma where the symptoms are active in their childhood, disappear or subside as one grows up. But they tend to reappear after a long period during adulthood. The reasons for such onset may be smoking, cold and cough, heavy exercise, certain medications without the doctor’s consultation etc.
- Episodic attacks with symptom-free periods in between: This symptom is commonly observed among children (20% approx). The attacks usually occur 6-8 times in a year but the symptoms are visible at least once in a month. A preventive therapy by using corticosteroids has found to be effective in such condition.
- Worse at night or early in the morning: The exact reason of worsening situation at night is unknown but some doctors believe that allergens are more exposed to the body in lying position, making a person more susceptible to an asthma attack. Also hormonal activity is usually higher during this time.
- Exposure to extreme weather: Hot and humid weather or extremely cold weather causes and outbreak of asthma symptoms. Even though you cannot control the weather, as an asthmatic you should ensure that you do not expose yourself to varying temperatures.
- Gets worse with exercise and heartburn: Exercise-induced asthma is triggered by vigorous or prolonged exercise or physical exertion. In such patients, within 5-20 minutes of exercise, narrowing of airway begins, thus making it difficult to catch one’s breath. In healthy individuals, the air inhaled, is first warmed and moistened by the nasal passages. But during exercise people tend to breathe through their mouths thus inhaling colder and drier air. In exercise-induced asthma, the muscles surrounding the airways are sensitive to these changes in temperature and humidity. Hence the airways respond by contracting their pathway, leading to asthmatic symptoms.
But there are also some adverse symptoms in asthmatic patients. And whenever they occur, the patient should be rushed to the doctor without further delay. These include, bluish discolouration of the lips and face, severe drowsiness or confusion, speedy pulse, severe anxiety due to shortness of breath, sweating or other symptoms that may occur due to abnormal breathing pattern, difficult breathing and chest pain.
Though there is no specific cure for this disease, but a proper diagnosis and thereafter continuous preventive therapy (control drugs) under a qualified practitioner can help an affected person stay away from recurring attacks. As an alternative therapy, homeopathy and ayurveda also provide effective remedies.