I was surprised to hear the death of a friend who, I know, has never smoked in his entire life. He died COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) which from what I know, was a complication of emphysema. It turned out that COPD became a complication of his respiratory asthma. I have never seen him in one of his asthma attacks, and as he explained before, it rarely happens. For most people, the frequency and severity of asthma attacks tend to decrease as a person ages. But in cases the condition becomes unmanageable, it could lead to death, specially in older people.
Asthma is a condition that affects the breathing passages of the lungs (bronchioles), caused by continuing or long-term inflammation of these passages. The inflammation can be “triggered” by a number of external and internal factors. People with asthma are highly sensitive to various “triggers.”
What happens in an asthma attack?
When a “trigger’ happens, the passages swell and becomes filled with mucus. Muscles within the breathing passages contract causing even further narrowing of the airways, making it difficult for air to be exhaled from the lungs. This resistance to exhaling leads to the typical symptoms of an asthma attack.
Is it common?
Asthma is a very common condition in the United States, where more than 17 million people are affected, a third of which are children. It is one of the most common reasons for emergency room visits and hospitalization and is also a major cause of absences from school and work.
Many people are forced to make compromises in their lifestyle to accommodate this condition, but the good news is, people with asthma can still live their lives to the fullest by taking control and managing the condition with the help of loved ones and their health care provider. Current treatments for asthma, if followed closely, allow most people with this condition to limit the number of attacks they have.
How do you tell if someone is having an asthma attack?
The following are common symptoms of an asthma attack. These can happen at any time, sometimes even when asleep:
- wheezing or whistling or hissing sound with breathing
- chest tightness,
- coughing, and
- difficulty speaking.
- Feelings of anxiety or panic
What should you do if a loved one or someone you know has asthma?
Each person with asthma has his or her own unique set of triggers. If a loved one or someone you know or live with, you should know that the following could trigger asthma and should therefore be avoided:
- exposure to tobacco or wood smoke,
- breathing polluted air,
- inhaling other respiratory irritants such as perfumes or cleaning products,
- exposure to airway irritants at the workplace,
- breathing in allergy-causing substances (allergens) such as molds, dust, or animal dander,
- an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold, flu, sinusitis, or bronchitis,
- exposure to cold, dry weather,
- emotional excitement or stress,
- physical exertion or exercise,
- reflux of stomach acid known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD,
- sulfites, an additive to some foods and wine, and
- menstruation: In some, not all, women, asthma symptoms are closely tied to the menstrual cycle.
Is asthma contagious?
If a parent, a brother, or sister also has asthma, and if you are prone to allergic rhinitis and other allergies, then you are at risk for developing asthma, specially when exposed to the triggers.
How do you deal with asthma?
Since asthma is a chronic disease, treatment goes on for a very long time. Some people have to stay on treatment for the rest of their lives. The best way to improve your condition and live your life on your terms is to learn all you can about your asthma and what you can do to make it better.
- Become aware of your asthma triggers and do what you can to avoid them.
- If you smoke, quit.
- Follow the treatment recommendations of your health-care provider. Understand your treatment. Know what each drug does and how it is used.
- Do not take cough medicine. Such medications do not help asthma and may cause unwanted side effects.
- Aspirin and nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, can cause asthma to worsen in certain individuals. These medications should not be taken without the advice of your health-care provider.
- Do not use nonprescription inhalers. These contain very short-acting drugs that may not last long enough to relieve an asthma attack and may cause unwanted side effects.
- Do not take any nonprescription preparations, herbs, or dietary supplements, even if they are completely “natural,” without talking to your health-care provider first. Some of these may have unwanted side effects or interfere with your medications.
- Take only the medications your health-care provider has prescribed for your asthma. Take them as directed.
- See your health-care provider as scheduled. Report any changes or worsening of your symptoms or any side effects from your medications as soon as possible and report. If the medication is not working, do not take more than you have been directed to take. Overusing asthma medications can be dangerous.