Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways to the lungs. In this condition, the airways narrow down, swell up, and produce excess mucus. This results in difficulties in breathing and the person cannot comfortably do physical activities and sometimes it is even impossible.
Generally, with every breath, the air goes into the nose and through the airways, it reaches the lungs. There are so many tiny airways in the lungs that help transport oxygen from the air to the bloodstream. However, when the inner layers of the airways swell, the muscles around them tighten and the required amount of air cannot pass through the airways as these are filled with mucus. In this situation, symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath occur.
Some people with asthma experience minor irritations. But for others, it can be a major problem in which they become unable to do daily activities and sometimes it may also cause a life-threatening attack. It can’t be cured completely, but one can control the symptoms. As asthma symptoms usually change over time, you have to consult your doctor to manage the signs and symptoms by proper treatment.
A person suffering from it experiences different types of symptoms. These are as follows:
- Coughing mainly at night and also during exercise and laughing
- Shortness of breath
- Wheezing, a whistling sound comes during breathing
- Feeling of tightness in the chest
- Difficulty in sleeping because of coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath
The occurrence of these symptoms may depend on the intensity of the health disorder that you have. The symptoms of asthma are not the same for every person. If you experience the above symptoms, you need to see your doctor. Sometimes, the signs and symptoms get aggravated or triggered in certain situations as listed below:
Exercise-induced asthma occurs when someone does strenuous exercises. It may get worse if the air is cold and dry. Long-distance running, swimming or soccer game may trigger this type.
Allergy-induced asthma, triggered by substances present in the air, for example, pollen, mold spores, minute particles of skin or dried saliva shed by pets (pet dander) or cockroach wastes. This type of asthma is more likely to be seasonal as these occur with seasonal allergies.
Occupational asthma usually triggered by workplace nuisances such as chemical fumes, gases, dust, dyes, industrial chemicals, rubber latex, animal proteins etc. Employees of different industries like farming, textiles, woodworking, and manufacturing, are get affected by the irritants produced from these industries.
Causes of Asthma
There is not a single cause behind the occurrence of asthma. Rather, researchers believe that there are certain factors which affect the breathing conditions. These factors include:
Hereditary: If a parent has it, then the children are more likely to have this problem.
Past record of viral infections: People who had been attacked by viral infections during childhood may develop this condition.
Hygiene Hypothesis: According to this hypothesis, if babies aren’t exposed to sufficient microbes in their early months and years through the environment, then their immune system doesn’t grow strong enough to resist inflammation-related health disorders such as Asthma.
Frequent allergen exposure: If you come in contact with airborne allergens and irritants frequently, you may be more susceptible to develop it.
Exposure to certain irritants and substances activate our immune response and it can trigger Asthma-like symptoms creating a positive feedback loop and making the situation worse. The triggers vary from person to person. Here are some of them:
- Respiratory infections, for example, pneumonia, flu, or the common cold
- Strenuous physical activity or exercise, for example, long-distance walking, swimming etc
- Extreme weather conditions like the cold or very high humidity of the air
- Minute particles present in the air, such as pollen, mold spores, dust mites, pet dander and particles of cockroach waste
- Air pollutants and irritants, such as smoke and strong fumes of chemicals
- Certain medications like beta blockers, aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen etc
- Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition in which stomach acids come up into your throat
- Strong emotions, such as shouting, laughing, crying etc and excess stress
- Some foods and beverages, which contain sulfites and preservatives, such as shrimp, dried fruit, processed foods, beer and wine
Factors that increase chances of Asthma
There are some other factors that are responsible for increasing the chances of causing this disorder. These include:
- Having a blood relative (for example, a parent or sibling) with asthma
- If you have another allergic condition, like hay fever or atopic dermatitis
- Being a smoker
- Being overweight
- Having exposure to external smoke
- Exposure to emitted fumes or other types of pollution
- Exposure to workplace triggers, for example, chemicals used in manufacturing, farming, and hairdressing.
Asthma Prevention and Treatment
Treatments for asthma are comprised of three main categories: breathing exercises, rescue or first aid treatments, and long-term asthma control medications. The doctor prescribes the treatments according to the type of asthma the patient has, his age and also checking the triggers.
It is a common tendency to depend on nebulizers and proton inhibitors, which often starts from an emergency use and becomes a lifelong dependency. However, they come with multiple side effects and often inhibit our body’s systems to adapt and resolve on its own. While they are lifesavers in multiple cases, one should also work towards addressing the causes of Asthma (which is primarily inflammation) and hence bring the disorder to control in a holistic manner that involves a change in lifestyle and diet. This will help you slowly reduce and eventually remove the dependency on the inhalers.
- Yoga: Yoga poses such as Downward Facing Dog, Half Lord of the Fishes Pose, Bound Angle Pose, Bow Pose, Bridge Pose, Camel Pose, and Cat poses are great to bring the disorder in control. A complete list with instructions is here. Additionally, Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutation works wonders when practiced on a daily basis.
- Avoid triggers and reduce exposure to allergens: Stay away from chemicals, smells, or products which have caused breathing difficulties before. If you experience certain asthma symptoms with exposure to some allergens, like dust or mold, avoid them as much as you can.
- Groom your microbiota: Since it is an inflammatory disorder, one needs to work backward to groom a healthy microbiota in the gut system. There are certain microbes in our digestive system that can help to bring the symptoms and body’s response in control; hence one needs to nurture them by eating a healthy and gut-friendly diet.
- Ayurvedic Diet: Include vegetables, fruits, and fermented foods that can provide you with antioxidants, bioactive compounds, and essential nutrients for your digestive system and immune system. Stay tuned on Medhya Blog for the diets and meal ideas.
- Ayurvedic Rasayanas: Ayurvedic concoctions made from the herbs such as Chayavanprash, Triphala, and Sitopladi have been known to help mitigate the symptoms and bring Asthma in control. Consult your Doctor and include them in your daily regime.
- Breathing exercises such as Pranayama: These exercises help you facilitate transportation of more air into and out of your lungs. If you do this exercise for a long time, your lung capacity will increase and also the numbers of severe asthma symptoms get decreased.
- Take preventive medication: Your doctor may recommend medicines for you to take regularly. You can also take this medicine in case of an emergency. So, always keep this medicine with you.
- Manage Stress: Stress has been known to hamper the functioning of the body and mind in innumerable ways. Extreme physical stress as stated earlier can trigger an attack. However, chronic mental stress also takes you towards inflammation-related health disorders and Asthma is number one amongst them along with digestive problems.
- Bolster your Immune System with Adaptogens: Adaptogens such as Amla, Ashwagandha, Holy Basil – Tulsi, and Giloy have a positive effect towards lowering the intensity of the symptoms and triggers. One needs to include them in diet or as a medication.
In case of Emergency
Anybody can help a patient having an asthma attack. You can advise them to sit upright and help them in using their inhaler or nebulizer. Two to five puffs of medication can reduce their symptoms. In case of severity and when the symptoms continue for 20 minutes, help the patient in getting medical treatment.
First aid treatments
These treatments are only given when the patient has an asthma attack. After the treatment, you can feel quick relief and breathe again comfortably. Some examples of these treatments include:
- Nebulizers or rescue inhalers contain medicines and the patient use them to take deep breaths into the lungs.
- Bronchodilators help relax the tightened muscles in your lung.
- Anti-inflammatories are given to reduce inflammation in the lungs which stops your breathing.