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Friday, September 25, 2020

Asthma: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

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Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that makes it difficult to breathe and sometimes makes it almost impossible to perform certain tasks that others can.

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It is a condition in which your airways become narrow, swell, and produce extra mucus, causing irritation, wheezing, and shortness of breath. It is a life-long disease that can be managed with medication and healthy lifestyle practices.

A combination of environmental and genetic factors may cause asthma. Example of environmental factors includes air pollution and allergens.

According to the Global Asthma Report, asthma affects as many as 339 million people worldwide and kills about 1000 people every day. It is even more prevalent in low and middle-income countries who suffer the most severe cases.

When you breathe in, air goes through your nose and sometimes mouth and goes down into your windpipe, into your airways, and eventually into your lungs.

It then passes through your bronchial tubes and into tiny air sacs known as alveoli. There, the air sacs deliver oxygen into your bloodstream. Asthma occurs when the lining of those airways become inflamed, making it swell, and the muscles around them tighten.

It becomes filled with mucus, further reducing the amount of air than can pass through.  Asthma is classified according to the severity of the symptoms. It is classified as;

  • Mild intermittent asthma: The symptoms occur less than twice a week, with nighttime symptoms occurring less than twice a month. Asthma attacks are fewer in number.
  • Mild persistent asthma: The symptoms occur three to six times a week, with nighttime symptoms occurring three to four times a month. Attacks from this type of asthma may affect regular activities.
  • Moderate persistent asthma: Symptoms occur three to six times a week, with nighttime symptoms occurring three to four times a month. Asthma attacks may affect activities.
  • Severe persistent asthma: Occurrence of ongoing symptoms both in the day and at night. The frequent occurrence will limit activities.

What happens during an asthma attack?

Asthma attacks usually occur suddenly when the symptoms are at their peak. During some attacks, inflammation of the airways can completely prevent oxygen from entering the lungs, which in turn prevents it from entering the bloodstream.

This type of attack can be fatal and requires immediate attention from medical professionals. When asthma attacks begin, sufficient air is prevented from entering the lungs, trapping carbon dioxide in the bloodstream.

This is poisonous if carbon dioxide does not leave fast enough. A prolonged attack may cause the buildup of gas in the lungs and reduces the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream.

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Signs and Symptoms of Asthma

Symptoms of asthma include;

  • Fatigue
  • Coughing especially at night or during physical activities
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness of chest

Types of Asthma

  • Childhood asthma: An intermittent form of asthma where children may experience daily symptoms. May be caused by heightened sensitivity to allergens. Also, second-hand tobacco smoke may cause severe issues for children with asthma. Mild asthma may be resolved without treatment during childhood.
  • Adult-onset asthma: This type of asthma may begin at any age. Symptoms are usually persistent and require daily management to prevent attacks
  • Occupational asthma: This is caused as a result of a profession or job. Symptoms are triggered as a result of exposure to certain conditions at your workplace. Symptoms also include red eyes and a runny nose.
  • Seasonal asthma: This type of asthma occurs as a result of exposure to allergens in the environment during certain times of the year. These include cold air in winter, pollen grains in spring, and dust in the dry season or harmattan.

Causes of Asthma

There are no known causes of asthma; however, there are several factors that contribute to the development of asthma and could trigger attacks.

Many environmental factors have been linked to the development of asthma. These include air pollution, allergens, and exposure to other environmental chemicals.

Smoking while pregnant has disastrous effects on the effect of both mother and child. It has been associated with a significant risk of asthma symptoms.

Also, poor air quality due to air pollution from traffic and industrial areas, and high ozone levels has been associated with the development of asthma. Poor air quality is associated with mostly low-income areas.

Exposure to indoor volatile organic compounds may trigger an asthma attack. Compounds such as formaldehyde and phthalates in certain types of plastic, although not toxic, are associated with asthma attacks in children and adults.

Asthma attacks have also been linked to indoor allergens. Examples of indoor allergens include cockroaches, dust, mold, and animal fur and feathers. Other causes and risk factors of asthma include;

  • A history of viral infections during childhood
  • Genetics
  • Hygiene hypothesis which proposes that babies who are not exposed to enough bacteria in their early years are at risk of developing asthma. This is because their immune system is not strong enough to fight off asthma.
  • Smoking tobacco
  • Stress 


The diagnosis of asthma is performed by a medical professional. The medical history of the patient would be taken into consideration. Physical exams and breathing tests would also be taken to determine the severity of asthma symptoms.

It is essential to keep notes of anything that could potentially trigger asthma symptoms. This would help guide the treatment options for patients.

A lung function test is another type of diagnosis for asthma. It measures how much air a person breathes in and out, and the speed at which it is expelled from the lungs. A spirometry test can indicate the functionality of the lungs.

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Asthma medication plays a significant role in who well the condition is controlled. There are two major types of treatment, and each has a specific aim.

Controller medications are the most important being that they prevent asthma attacks. When these drugs are administered, your airways are less likely to be inflamed or react to triggers.

Quick-relief medications, also known as rescue medications, relax the muscles surrounding your airways. If you have to use quick-relief medicine more than twice a week, it implies that your condition is not well controlled. People whose asthma may be induced by exercise may utilize quick-acting medication.

Making use of the right medication at appropriate times should allow you to live an active and healthy life. If your symptoms are not well controlled, you are advised to ask your doctor for a different prescription that works better.

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Disclaimer: This article is purely informative & educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

Victor Anunobi
Victor Anunobi is an environmentalist, writer and movie enthusiast living in the city of Lagos, Nigeria. He enjoys long walks, food and alternative music.
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