|Spanish Multimedia Encyclopedia|
Asthma is an inflammatory disorder of the airways, which causes attacks of wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing.
See also: Pediatric asthma
Bronchial asthma; Exercise-induced asthma
Asthma is caused by inflammation in the airways. When an asthma attack occurs, the muscles surrounding the airways become tight and the lining of the air passages swell. This reduces the amount of air that can pass by, and can lead to wheezing sounds.
Most people with asthma have wheezing attacks separated by symptom-free periods. Some patients have long-term shortness of breath with episodes of increased shortness of breath. In others, a cough may be the main symptom. Asthma attacks can last minutes to days and can become dangerous if the airflow becomes severely restricted.
In sensitive individuals, asthma symptoms can be triggered by breathing in allergy-causing substances (called allergens or triggers).
Common asthma triggers include:
Aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) provoke asthma in some patients.
Additional symptoms that may be associated with this disease:
Allergy testing may be helpful in identifying allergens in people with persistent asthma. Common allergens include pet dander, dust mites, cockroach allergens, molds, and pollens. Common respiratory irritants include tobacco smoke, pollution, and fumes from burning wood or gas.
The doctor will use a stethoscope to listen to the lungs. Asthma-related sounds may be heard. However, lung sounds are usually normal between asthma episodes.
Tests may include:
The goal of treatment is to avoid the substances that trigger your symptoms and to control airway inflammation. You and your doctor should work together as a team to develop and carry out a plan for eliminating asthma triggers and monitoring symptoms.
There are two basic kinds of medication for the treatment of asthma:
Long-term control medications are used on a regular basis to prevent attacks, not to treat them. Such medicines include:
Quick relief, or rescue, medications are used to relieve symptoms during an attack. These include:
People with mild asthma (infrequent attacks) may use quick relief medication as needed. Those with persistent asthma should take control medications on a regular basis to prevent symptoms. A severe asthma attack requires a check up by a doctor and, possibly, a hospital stay, oxygen, and medications through a vein (IV).
A peak flow meter is a simple device to measure how quickly you can move air out of your lungs. It can help you see if an attack is coming, sometimes even before any symptoms appear. Peak flow measurements can help show when medication is needed, or other action needs to be taken. Peak flow values of 50-80% of a specific person's best results are a sign of a moderate asthma attack, while values below 50% are a sign of a severe attack.
The stress caused by illness can often be helped by joining a support group, where members share common experiences and problems.
There is no cure for asthma, although symptoms sometimes improve over time. With proper self management and medical treatment, most people with asthma can lead normal lives.
The complications of asthma can be severe. Some include:
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if asthma symptoms develop.
Call your health care provider or go to the emergency room if:
Go to the emergency room if:
Asthma symptoms can be substantially reduced by avoiding known triggers and substances that irritate the airways.
Bedding can be covered with "allergy proof" casings to reduce exposure to dust mites. Removing carpets from bedrooms and vacuuming regularly is also helpful. Detergents and cleaning materials in the home should be unscented.
Keeping humidity levels low and fixing leaks can reduce growth of organisms such as mold. Keep the house clean and keep food in containers and out of bedrooms -- this helps reduce the possibility of cockroaches, which can trigger asthma attacks in some people.
If a person is allergic to an animal that cannot be removed from the home, the animal should be kept out of the patient's bedroom. Filtering material can be placed over the heating outlets to trap animal dander.
Eliminating tobacco smoke from the home is the single most important thing a family can do to help a child with asthma. Smoking outside the house is not enough. Family members and visitors who smoke outside carry smoke residue inside on their clothes and hair -- this can trigger asthma symptoms.
Persons with asthma should also avoid air pollution, industrial dusts, and other irritating fumes, as much as possible.
National Asthma Education and Prevention Program Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma. Rockville, MD. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2007. NIH publication 08-4051.