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A closer look at Asthma
Asthma is a chronic inflammation of the lungs that causes breathing problems.
As many as 15 million Americans suffer from asthma and many more probably have it and dont know it. Asthma is not contagious. While there is no cure yet, asthma can be controlled, usually through medications prescribed by a doctor and by avoiding the things that trigger an asthma attack.
Typical symptoms of asthma include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and excess mucus. These conditions result from the underlying inflammation of the airways of the lungs. The airway muscles contract at the same time that the lung tissue swells, constricting the flow of air in and out of the lungs. Further, mucus is excreted, and it plugs up the tiny airways.
Symptoms of asthma may appear as a result of respiratory infections or exposure to a wide range of irritants, as well as exposure to certain medications, emotional stress, weather changes, exercise, and physical conditions. Among the irritants that can trigger asthma are pollen, mold, dust, cockroach, animal dander, urine, saliva, workplace chemicals, smoke, perfume, hair spray, vapors, paint, cleaners, food additives, cosmetics, air pollutants, gases, fumes, and aerosols.
Emotions such as fear, anger, frustration, crying, and laughing can cause asthma in some people. People with asthma often have to be careful about exercise, sometimes by taking medication before exertion. Menstrual period, pregnancy, and thyroid conditions also are known to trigger asthma problems.
Certain food additives and medicines are asthma triggers, too. These include sulfites in tuna, lemon juice, grape juice, dried apples and raisins, and wine. Medication irritants include aspirin, ibuprofen, indomethacin, and naproxen.
When an irritant is inhaled or swallowed, the body reacts by releasing extra antibodies, known as immune globulin E, to fend off the noxious substance by generating a substance called histamine. This substance swells tissue, constricts muscles, and produces mucus. While these three effects are part of the bodys defense system for keeping out foreign irritants, an overreaction can cause asthma symptoms.
Each asthma sufferer must devise a plan to manage the condition according to a physicians advice. The idea is to prevent inflammation of the lungs and keep the airways from constricting. An individual, even a child, can learn when the lungs are starting to react to irritants. Avoiding the irritants is a primary means of preventing the airways of the lungs from reacting. Quick use of medication also can stave off an asthma attack.
Many asthma sufferers monitor the air flow through their lungs with a device that measures the peak air flow. Using such a self-test, they can know their relative susceptibility to an asthma attack and gauge the need for a medicated breathing therapy. Physicians prescribe a wide variety of drugs to help reduce lung inflammation and dilate the airways.
Parents of children with asthma must seek the continued care of a health care professional, usually a physician. The doctor will administer one or more tests to make a firm diagnosis that the condition really is asthma and not another bronchial problem. The parents and child will work to learn which irritants to avoid, often by keeping a journal of the foods and medicines ingested and the environment encountered. Usually, the doctor will prescribe medication, such as steroids and antibiotics, to tackle the lung inflammation, as well as a regimen of inhaling a drug to open the airways of the lungs.
Parents will help the child "get in tune" with his or her body to recognize when the symptoms of an asthma attack are imminent. Parents also will develop a positive plan of action--based on a physicians recommendations--for an acute asthma attack.
A source of information and support for parents is Allergy and Asthma Network/Mothers of Asthmatics, Inc., 3554 Chain Bridge Road, Suite 200, Fairfax, Virginia 22030. Phone 1-800-878-4403.
People with asthma can control their condition and lead an active life.
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