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Thursday, September 29, 2011

How Asthma Affects Your Ability To Breathe

By John Web

Millions of people cope with asthma, a chronic disease where the air passages constrict and swell. As a result, those with the condition periodically experience difficulty taking deep breaths. Although there are several approaches used to treat the disease, none can cure it. They merely prevent flare-ups, or diminish their severity.

In this article, we'll take a close look at this condition, starting with the most common side effects. We'll explain how asthma "attacks" occur so you can learn to identify the triggers. You'll also learn about medications and other treatment options available to reduce the effects of an attack as well as how to control the disease at home.

Symptoms And Causes Of Flare-Ups

The most common signs of asthma are coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Many people also experience tightness or pain in their chests. If the patient is battling a flu or other infection, these symptoms will likely be more pronounced.

The chronic coughing and wheezing may make sleeping difficult, which will slowly cause the patient to feel perpetually tired. With time, he or she may feel fatigued. Those with asthma might also be more susceptible to allergies, showing signs such as a runny nose or persistent itchiness.

It's important to recognize the factors that contribute to flare-ups since doing so will help to prevent them. Stimuli vary by person. Some people experience more pronounced symptoms after strenuous physical activity. This may be made worse if the air is dry. For others, something in their work environment sets off a flare-up. This can include dust or certain chemicals. Still other people experience flare-ups when they are exposed to a particular allergen, such as peanuts, wool, or certain types of grass.

Medications Prescribed To Treat Asthma

There are several drugs that a doctor can prescribe to treat asthma. The patient's symptoms, along with the factors that cause flare-ups, play a major role in determining which medication is appropriate. Some are designed to provide fast relief from symptoms. They include a number of bronchodilators, such as albuterol and pirbuterol. Corticosteroids, taken orally or by injection, may also be given. However, when used for an extended period, they can cause side effects.

Other medications are designed to help manage symptoms over the long run. These include drugs that inhibit the action of leukotrienes (inflammatory agents that trigger allergies). They also include certain corticosteroids, which, when inhaled, are less likely to cause side effects. Medications called beta agonists are also given in order to relax the muscles near the airways.

Doctors normally suggest that their patients avoid depending on drugs that deliver fast relief from symptoms (e.g. bronchodilators). Frequent use of such medications usually means that treatments given to manage symptoms over the long run need to be reviewed, and possibly changed.

What Is Bronchial Thermoplasty?

Patients who do not respond to any of the treatment options described thus far may benefit from a procedure called bronchial thermoplasty. A doctor uses a catheter to deliver thermal energy into the air passages. The energy heats up the walls of the airways, causing the muscles to become smaller. They are replaced by connective tissue. The tissue is less likely to cause an obstruction, which means the patient will find it easier to breathe. Bronchial thermoplasty is performed over the course of multiple therapy sessions.
Managing The Condition At Home
Patients with asthma can minimize attacks by avoiding known triggers. Use of air conditioning is also helpful since it diminishes the amount of allergens in the living environment. Maintaining a clean space indoors, as well as using a dehumidifier, has been known to help many people suffering from this disease.
A health diet and routine exercise also help. The former prevents obesity - a contributing factor in asthma - while the latter improves your cardiovascular system. Both can help prevent flare-ups.
Asthma is only life-threatening in rare cases, though it can cause serious symptoms. If you think you have it, or believe it is getting worse, contact your physician.
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