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What is Asthma?

Asthma is a non-communicable chronic disease affecting both children and adults. It is characterized by inflammation and narrowing of the small airways. It can cause breathing issues in patients such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness.

The most common triggers of asthma include:

  • Lung infections
  • Exercise
  • Environmental irritants
  • Allergens
  • Intense emotions
  • Extreme weather conditions
  • Certain medications

Risk Factors of Asthma

The following are contributing factors that are linked with an increased risk of developing asthma:

  • Genetics and family history, particularly when the disease is diagnosed in a parent or sibling
  • Allergic conditions, such as eczema and rhinitis (hay fever)
  • Overuse of tobacco and smoking
  • Exposure to various environmental allergens and irritants such as house dust mites, moulds, grass and tree pollen, animal fur and feathers, strong soaps and perfume etc.
  • Congenital lung anomalies
  • Respiratory infections including viral and fungal infections
  • Exposure to occupational chemicals or fumes
  • Being overweight or obese

Symptoms of Asthma

Common symptoms of asthma include:

  • Persistent cough, especially severe during the night time
  • Wheezing or whistling sound while inhaling and exhaling, especially worse when you get exposed to extreme cold
  • Shortness of breath or breathing difficulty
  • Tightness in the chest region
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Fatigue and tiredness during the day
  • Poor concentration

In cases of a severe asthma attack that require an immediate emergency support, you may experience the following signs:

  • Bluish discoloration of fingernails, lips etc.
  • Grey or whitish coating on the tongue or gums
  • Severe chest pain or pressure
  • Coughing that won’t stop or severe wheezing when you breathe
  • Difficulty in talking
  • Pale and excess sweating
  • Rapid or fast breathing

Diagnosis of Asthma

Your healthcare provider will go through your medical history, including information about your family history and any history of allergies. Your provider may order a spirometry test to measure the airflow through your lungs. Your healthcare provider may also order a chest X-ray, blood test or skin test to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment of Asthma

While there is no cure for asthma, symptoms can be managed by several treatment options. The first common choice of treatment is using an inhaler, which delivers medication directly to the lungs. Thus, inhalers can help to control the attacks and enable you to enjoy a normal, active life.
Generally, there are two main types of inhalers:

  • Bronchodilators are medicines that clear and open the air passages in the lungs to relieve symptoms.
  • Steroids reduce inflammation in the air passages of the lungs, and thereby reduce the risk of severe asthma attacks.

You may need to use an inhaler every day or more often depending on the frequency of the symptoms, severity and the types of inhalers used.

Prevention of Asthma

You can reduce the risk of an asthma attack by:

  • Avoiding triggers such as chemicals, smells, or products that have caused breathing problems in the past
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Maintaining your ideal weight
  • Quitting smoking
  • Performing mild breathing exercising regularly
  • Managing stress by methods such as meditation

Alexandria Medical Associates

Primary care

6355 Walker Lane,
Suite 303,
Alexandria, VA 22310

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