20 million people in the United Stated have asthma, a chronic respiratory disease that makes it impossible for them to take breathing for granted.
Our lungs are filled with hollow tube like passages that resemble the branches on a tree. These passages gradually become smaller and smaller ending in tiny pockets where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged. For those with asthma, swelling in the hollow tubes that fill the lungs makes breathing difficult and uncomfortable. This inflammation causes an increased sensitivity to allergens and a host of other asthma triggers like exercise, medications, stress, pollution, humidity and even laughter.
The symptoms of asthma vary from person to person; early morning or late night coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, fatigue, anxiety and shortness of breath are all common. Allergen induced asthma usually becomes apparent before the age of 35. Non allergic asthma usually has its onset in middle age and can be triggered or worsened by reflux disease, exercise, weather changes and illness.
So who gets asthma? It is generally believed that exposure to allergens early in life can trigger asthma, and the rapid rise in the disease among children is cause for concern, but heredity plays a role too and can predispose certain populations to this chronic condition. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology children with a genetic predisposition are 40% more likely to develop the disease than those without the hereditary link. There isn’t anything that can be done to remove the heredity factor for asthma, but the disease is highly treatable.
When it comes to asthma, the best first line treatment is always lifestyle and environmental changes. Removing the influences that can trigger asthma related symptoms is the best first course of action. Keeping the environment clean and dust free to avoid exposure to mold, mildew and dust mites, avoiding pets and smoke, staying inside on windy days, always riding in the car with the windows up, avoiding exposure to household chemicals and perfumed body products, and running a dehumidifier on humid days can all help with specific environmental allergen triggers.
Prescription medications, or combinations of medications, are valuable tools in treating the symptoms of asthma. Bronchodilators are short acting medicines that help to open the breathing passageways of the lungs by relaxing them, while steroids are longer acting and help to decrease the swelling in the tissues lining the lungs. These medications come in the form of pills and inhalers and can be used with other medications to develop the right regimen for each individual patient.
Asthma is a common chronic respiratory disease with symptoms that can range from mild to serious, and can even become life threatening during a severe asthma attack, but asthma is also highly treatable. With the right combination of lifestyle, environmental and medical treatment, asthmatics can live healthy and active lives.