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Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases in the world. Millions of people suffer from this disease in which the bronchial tubes (airways) become inflamed, narrow, and swell. Although there are many shared symptoms among patients, not all cases of asthma are alike or have similar causes. Treating asthma is a matter of determining what triggers asthma attacks or episodes and adjusting your lifestyle to prevent exposing yourself to these triggers.
Our common image of an asthma sufferer is someone carrying an inhaler and having episodes of wheezing and difficult breathing. These are visible symptoms, but their severity can differ between people with the disease. Many people may not even be aware they have asthma, especially if these symptoms are less severe.
Symptoms can include:
Asthma symptoms in children often show up before age 5, but this can be difficult for even doctors to recognize due to the small bronchial tubes infants and very young children possess. Asthma symptoms may be mistaken for the effects of head or chest colds, or other illnesses.
Pediatric asthma symptoms can include:
The prevalence of asthma has increased for decades, and although there's no single answer why, there are some relevant risk factors:
Racial factors come into play in asthma rates in the U.S. Puerto Ricans have the highest prevalence of asthma, while African-Americans have the highest prevalence of childhood asthma. African-Americans with asthma also have higher mortality rates and hospital admission rates. These statistics are attributed to poverty, urban air quality, and lack of patient education and quality health care.
Asthma is not just obstruction of the airway, but also inflammation. The muscles surrounding the bronchial tubes constrict, limiting the ability to breathe. Asthma attacks have a variety of triggers, some of which wouldn't be immediately obvious:
Managing asthma is about knowing what type of asthma you have. Asthma isn't just one condition, but defined both by the pathways of inflammation and by the sources and triggers of asthmatic episodes. Some of these include:
Knowing your type of asthma, especially as defined by your triggers, is key to managing it. Adapting your lifestyle to ensure your environment and habits prevent triggering attacks or episodes is vital to living comfortably with the disease. Steps may include:
Asthma treatment options can include a number of devices and machines to deliver medication or clear airways.
Inhalers: These are typically rescue devices that deliver puffs of medication to inhale. The medications are often corticosteroids, which reduce inflammation that closes the airway, or brochodilators, which relax the bronchial muscles in order to open the airway.
Nebulizer Machines: Nebulizers are machines that convert liquid medication into a mist, allowing you to inhale it through a mask or mouthpiece and absorb it into your lungs. They typically deliver brochodilators, allowing your airway to relax and open.
PEP Therapy Devices: Many asthma patients deal with excessive levels of secretions that block the airways. PEP therapy devices utilize a technique called vibratory PEP (positive expiratory pressure) to loosen and mobilize secretions, allowing the patient to expel them by coughing.