The health media have devoted significant attention to bronchial asthma in recent years as epidemiologists have noted an increase in the number of clinically diagnosed asthma patients, especially children. Bronchial asthma, commonly referred to simply as asthma, is a clinical term used by physicians to differentiate the common respiratory problem from cardiac asthma, which is a condition experienced by many heart failure patients that mimics the symptoms of asthma.
Asthma symptoms range from mild to severe, even life threatening, and from temporary to constant. Common symptoms include shortness of breath, a feeling of tightness across the chest, a wheezing or whistling sound during exhalation, and coughing. Many asthma patients find that the symptoms can also lead to sleeplessness.
What Causes Asthma?
Asthma occurs when the bronchi, or the tubes that carry air from the trachea to the lungs, become inflamed and constrict, limiting airflow. The inflammation causes the bronchi to produce mucus, which further limits airflow. While the exact cause of asthma is unknown, most experts believe a combination of environmental and genetic factors contribute to asthma. What triggers an attack in one asthma sufferer can be very different from what triggers an attack in another. Common triggers include airborne allergens like animal dander, pollen, and dust mites, cold air, exercise, air pollution, infections of the respiratory system, stress, allergic reactions to foodstuffs such as peanuts or shellfish, certain medications such an non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and gastrointestinal reflux disease. Those with a family history of asthma are more likely to develop asthma themselves, as are those with a history of childhood respiratory infections. Low birth weight, obesity, living in an urban area, and exposure to agricultural or industrial toxins also increase the risk of developing asthma.
Asthma cannot be cured, but it can be treated. Untreated asthma can lead to more frequent and more dangerous attacks. The goal is to both prevent asthma attacks and quickly treat attacks that do occur. Often patients are on a long-term medication that helps prevent their bronchi from becoming inflamed, and also have emergency medication that helps quickly open airways during an attack. Some patients are also treated with allergy medications if airborne allergens are believed to be one of their triggers,
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