Asthma is a disease of the lung that affects the bronchial tubes or airways. The term “asthma” comes from the Greek meaning, “to breathe hard.” Medical terminology defines the condition as reversible obstructive airway disease (ROAD). Unlike other conditions that obstruct the airways, such as cystic fibrosis, chronic bronchitis and emphysema, asthma does not affect sufferers all of the time.
The lungs are a network of airways or bronchial tubes. The bronchial tubes are made of muscles and a mucous membrane. In a healthy lung, air moves freely through the bronchial tubes.
When an asthmatic person has an asthma attack the membranes inside the bronchial tubes release mucus and become inflamed. The inflammation causes the muscles to contract and create spasms. These muscle spasms are responsible for wheezing. Wheezing is the sound that can be heard as the bronchial tubes constrict and air tries to escape.
Attacks can vary considerably in their severity and are sometimes relatively mild, but the condition is nevertheless a dangerous one. An asthma attack can easily spiral out of control at any time. This is particularly true for children.
New Classifications in Types of Asthma
Although clear patterns do exist, the specific causes of asthma are far from straightforward. Until recently, the condition was divided into two clearly defined types of asthma: extrinsic (allergic) asthma and (non-allergic) intrinsic asthma. Today, asthma is divided into a number of different types: allergic, non-allergic/intrinsic, exercise-induced, nocturnal, occupational and steroid-resistant asthma.
Ninety percent of all asthma sufferers have allergic asthma. Allergic asthma is triggered by allergens – substances capable of causing an allergic reaction.
Causes of Allergic Asthma: The causes of allergic asthma are wide ranging. At the top of the list are specific allergens, such as pet dander, pollen and dust mites. People suffering specific allergen-induced asthma are usually very aware of the offending allergen and try to avoid it.
Pollutants, wood dust, smoke, irritants, chemicals, viral infections, bacteria, stress, emotion and exercise are other frequently diagnosed causes.
Childhood Allergic Asthma: Most childhood asthma is considered an allergic type of asthma. Childhood asthma occurs more often in young boys than girls and out of all childhood illnesses accounts for the most missed days of school.
Research has concluded that maternal smoking can contribute to asthma or other impairment of infant lung function, even before the child is born. Continued exposure to cigarette smoking can irritate the respiratory tract and make infants and children particularly vulnerable to allergic asthma.
Asthma is called “intrinsic” when allergies do not play a part. Intrinsic asthma is not likely to develop in children; its typical onset occurs after age 40. Possible causes of intrinsic asthma include respiratory irritants such as perfumes, cleaning agents, fumes, smoke and cold air, upper respiratory infections, and gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). Intrinsic asthma tends to be less responsive to treatment than allergic asthma.
At least eleven percent of the non-asthmatic population experiences exercise-induced asthma. Many of these people have allergies or a family history of allergies.
Exercise-induced asthma can affect anyone at any age and may be attributed to the loss of heat and moisture in the lungs that occurs with strenuous exercise. Frequent coughing during exercise may be the only symptom of exercise-induced asthma. But in cold, dry conditions exercise-induced asthma symptoms can be more severe. Some common sense coupled with prophylactic medications for exercise-induced asthma can prevent the onset of asthmatic symptoms for sensitive individuals.
Nocturnal, or sleep-related, asthma affects people when they are sleeping and, although termed “nocturnal” (belonging to the night), asthma symptoms can occur regardless of the time of day a person is sleeping. Symptoms of nocturnal asthma tend to be their worst between midnight and 4 a.m. Nocturnal asthma can be triggered by allergens in bedding or the bedroom, a decrease in room temperature, and gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), among other triggers. An estimated 75 percent of asthmatics are affected by nocturnal asthma.
Occupational asthma occurs directly as a result of breathing chemical fumes, wood dust, or other irritants over long periods of time. An estimated 15 percent of asthmatics have occupational asthma.
In the case of asthma medications, especially steroids, more is not better. Overuse of asthma medications can lead to status asthmaticus, a severe asthma attack that doesn’t responds to medication and may require mechanical ventilation to reverse. To prevent status asthmaticus, follow your doctor’s directions and take medication only as prescribed.
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