Health Tips: Asthma, what you need to know

What Is Asthma?

Asthma is a long-term disease of the lungs. It affects your airways by rendering it inflamed and narrow, and it makes it difficult to breathe. Serious asthma can lead to trouble talking or being active. Doctors often call it a chronic respiratory disease. Asthma is also called  “bronchial asthma.”

Asthma causes approximately 1.6 million emergency room visits every year. With treatment, you can live comfortably. Without it, you might have to go to the ER often or stay at the hospital, which can disrupt your daily life.

What Does Asthma Feel Like?

Asthma is marked by inflammation of the bronchial tubes, with extra sticky secretions inside the tubes. People with asthma have symptoms when the airways tighten, inflame, or fill with mucus.

Signs of Asthma

There are three main signs of Asthma, they are;

Airway blockage

When you breathe as usual, the bands of muscle around your airways are relieved, and air moves without obstruction. But an asthma patient will have his muscles tighten. It’s harder for air to pass through.

Inflammation

Asthma leads to red, swollen bronchial tubes in your lungs. This inflammation can harm your lungs. Treating this is essential to managing asthma in the long run.

Airway irritability

People with asthma have sensitive airways that could overreact and become narrow when they come into contact with even slight triggers.

These problems may result to symptoms like:

Coughing, especially at night or in the morning

Wheezing, a whistling sound when you breathe

Shortness of breath

Tightness, pain, or pressure in your chest

Trouble sleeping because of breathing problems

Not every asthmatic patient has the same symptoms in the same way. You may not have all of these symptoms, or you may have different symptoms at different times. Your symptoms may also vary from one asthma attack to the next, being mild during one and severe during another.

Some asthmatic patients may go for long periods without having any symptoms. Others might have issues every day, also some people may have asthma only during exercise or with viral infections like colds.

Mild asthma attacks are generally more common. Usually, the airways open up within a few minutes to a few hours. Severe attacks are less common but last longer and require medical attention right away. It is important to recognize and treat even mild asthma symptoms to help you prevent severe episodes and keep asthma under better control.

What Is an Asthma Attack?

An asthma attack occurs when bands of muscle around the airways are triggered to tighten. This tightening is called bronchospasm. During the attack, the lining of the airways becomes swollen or inflamed, and the cells lining the airways make more and thicker mucus than normal.

All of these things — bronchospasm, inflammation, and mucus production — cause symptoms such as trouble breathing, wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and disturbs the normal daily activities.

Other symptoms of an asthma attack include:

  • Severe wheezing when breathing both in and out
  • Coughing that won’t stop
  • Very rapid breathing
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Tightened neck and chest muscles, called retractions
  • Difficulty talking
  • Feelings of anxiety or panic
  • Pale, sweaty face
  • Blue lips or fingernails

An asthma attack may be severe within a short period, so it’s important to treat these symptoms immediately.

Without immediate treatment, such as with your asthma inhaler or bronchodilator, it will become harder to breathe. If you use a peak flow meter at this time, the reading will probably be less than 50% of your normal peak flow reading.. Many asthma action plans suggest interventions starting at 80% of normal.

Woman using an inhaler

As the lungs continue to tighten, you won’t be able to use the peak flow meter at all. Your lungs will tighten so there is not enough air movement to make wheezing. You need to go to a hospital right away. Unfortunately, some people believe that the disappearance of wheezing is a signal of improvement and don’t get emergency care.

Without the right treatment, over time, you may not be able to speak and will get a bluish coloring around your lips. This color change, known as cyanosis, means you have less and less oxygen in your blood. It can cause a loss of consciousness and death.

If you have an asthma attack, follow the “Red Zone” or emergency instructions in your asthma action plan right away. These symptoms happen in life-threatening asthma attacks. You need medical attention right away.

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