Asthma is a disease of the lungs and airways that results in inflammation and excess mucus production. This blocks airways, making breathing difficult. Asthma can be triggered by many things, including pollen and stress and usually requires medical treatment to keep flare-ups under control. Asthma is a chronic condition but is not contagious.
Asthma rates are increasing in many countries around the world, and asthma currently affects over 300 million people globally. This may be due to increased allergens in the air or increasing levels of chemicals in our environment. Since asthma is a chronic disease, it requires continual monitoring of treatment. If a severe asthma attack is not recognized in time and emergency treatment is not obtained, an asthmatic can pass out or even die.
There are two forms of asthma. Extrinsic or allergic asthma is triggered by allergens in the air, such as pollen or animal dander. When breathed in, the immune system overreacts to these allergens, creating antibodies and stimulating inflammation and mucus production that block airways. People with extrinsic asthma often have other allergies, such as hay fever. Intrinsic asthma is not related to allergies and does not lead to antibody production, but the symptoms are the same. Exercise, stress or chemical exposure create a hypersensitivity reaction in the respiratory tract, increasing mucus production and creating inflammation. Neither form of asthma is contagious.
Symptoms of asthma include cough (especially at night or in the early morning), wheezing, shortness of breath and chest pain and tightness. Symptoms may be mild and go unnoticed or only occur in certain situations, such as when exercising. A severe asthma attack includes symptoms associated with a regular flare-up, but symptoms do not subside even with treatment. Wheezing that disappears during a severe attack may indicate that the airways have closed to the point that air is no longer able to enter the lungs.
Ask your doctor about medications, like steroids, to help control your asthma symptoms if attacks are frequent. Steroids reduce inflammation in your respiratory tract, allowing you to breathe easier, but they do have side effects when used long term, such as decreased immune function and high blood pressure.
Your doctor may also prescribe medications to help control occasional flare-ups if you symptoms are mild. These medications relax muscles around the respiratory tract, opening your airways. Talk to your doctor if you are having attacks more than twice a week though, which indicates that your asthma is not under control.
Severe asthma attacks are a medical emergency. Inflammation and mucus production is increased in the airways to the point that not enough oxygen is able to enter the lungs. If you have an asthma attack that lasts longer than usual and have difficulty breathing to the point that you are not able to speak or walk, or if your fingers and lips are turning purple or blue, have someone take you to an emergency room or call an ambulance right away.
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