Asthma

Asthma is a respiratory disease that affects both children and adults. The term describes difficulty breathing due to insufficient opening of the small air sacs in your lungs. Asthma can be an inherited condition, a disease caused by exposure to irritants such as cigarette smoke, or an allergic response of your lungs to both general and specific allergens. Sometimes viral illnesses will lead to chronic inflammation and chronic changes in your lungs, causing you to wheeze. Wheezing, cough, and inability to breathe comfortably are the main signs of asthma.  Sometimes, chronic cough is an early sign of asthma in an individual.

Causes

Asthma is the result of chronic inflammation in your lungs. The inflammation can come from exposure to viruses, irritant agents such as smoke and pollution, and your immune system’s response to allergens such as dust, pollen, and ragweed. Exposure to smoke in infancy and exposure to viral illness early in life also contribute to a person’s risk for asthma.  Family history is also an important risk factor for developing asthma.  Many individuals who have asthma have many relatives with asthma as well.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Childhood asthma can be diagnosed from the clinical presentation and personal history of the patient. Asthma in adulthood can be the continuation of previous childhood illness or a new condition that has developed in adulthood. Tests such as pulmonary function studies, chest X-ray, and CT scans of the chest and pulmonary system are all ways to evaluate chest structure.  Special breathing studies may also be used to compare airway perfusion and ventilation. Your provider can suggest the type of evaluation and studies needed to assess your illness. 

Medications dispensed as aerosol inhalers are most commonly used to treat this disorder. Bronchodilators are often delivered this way with the use of a spacer to ensure even dispersal of the medication throughout the patient’s lungs. Steroids and slower acting bronchodilators can also be prescribed to treat more complicated cases of asthma. Children and very ill patients may need to receive medication through a machine called a nebulizer, rather than using an inhaler. Medication provided this way includes beta agonists, long-acting agonists, or steroids.

Constant monitoring and evaluation is essential for anyone with asthma. Proper characterization and treatment of this disorder is essential to be sure the disease is controlled. Special ways to treat asthma, including the use of Asthma Action Plans, can be used to ensure standard and appropriate treatment.