Asthma is a condition in which the airways narrow sporadically causing shortness of breath and wheezing. Asthma attacks vary in severity, and can be life threatening. Asthma, thus, needs to be managed and treated immediately. It can develop at any age, however most of the adults suffering from asthma develop the condition during childhood.

Asthma develops gradually, and may go unnoticed in the initial stages. You may find out that you have asthma only when you suffer from the first asthma attack, which may be triggered due to exposure to an allergen. The following symptoms indicate the condition:

  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling of tightness in the chest (painless)
  • Difficulty in exhaling
  • Dry and persistent cough
  • Excessive sweating
  • Feeling of anxiety and panic

The following symptoms may develop in case of a severe asthma attack:

  • Inaudible wheezing due to extreme narrowing of airways
  • Inability to speak or complete a sentence due to shortness of breath
  • Blue colouration of lips, tongue and fingers, which is a result of insufficient oxygen
  • Exhaustion, confusion, and in extreme cases-coma

During an asthma attack the bronchi contracts, there is inflammation of the lining of bronchi, and there is excess secretion of mucus, which blocks the smaller airways. The extent of airway blockage depends on the severity of the attack. The muscles of the bronchi may also swell and get inflated due to certain irritants and allergens. Such kind of allergic asthma occurs mostly during childhood.
The allergens that trigger an asthma attack include

  • Dust
  • Pollen
  • Molds
  • Mites
  • Dander
  • Saliva

Some people are also allergic to various dairy products and other foods like eggs, nuts, wheat etc. These substances can also trigger an asthma attack. In some cases, it may so happen that a person might not be allergic to a certain allergen, however, a constant exposure to that particular allergen can trigger asthma as well as other occupational disorders.

Even if one is facing some minor breathing problems, in which the person does not show the above mentioned symptoms of asthma, it is best to get diagnosed for the condition. The person may be advised to undergo a spirometry test, which is done to measure the efficiency of lungs. Sometimes, the person may be asked to exercise for a few minutes to induce a mild attack of asthma or some chemicals may be used to test the irritability of airways. Once asthma is diagnosed, required medications can be administered. Asthma can be regularly monitored by a peak flow meter. The peak flow meter is used to measure the speed of exhaling, which is measured before and after inhaling the bronchodilator. The bronchodialator relaxes the airways, and hence, if the peak flow rate substantially increases after inhaling the bronchodialator, asthma is confirmed. Patients who face extreme shortness of breath are asked to undergo tests to check blood oxygen levels and chest X rays to rule out disorders like pneumothorax (collapsed lung). Diagnosis also includes identifying the allergens that trigger an attack of asthma so that it can be treated accordingly. The doctor may also ask questions related to the environment in which the person spends maximum time.

Self help
Asthma can be controlled by reducing exposure to the risk factors that trigger the attack. Here are some precautions that can help to keep asthma in check.

  • Avoid smoking
  • Avoid going to extremely polluted places
  • Avoid allergens that trigger your asthma
  • If your asthma is triggered by certain foods like nuts or eggs, avoid these items
  • Always carry your inhaler and other medications wherever you go

If you are suffering from a milder form of asthma, self help and avoiding allergens or foods that trigger asthma may help. However if there are many factors that trigger the condition and it is impossible to avoid them or if the asthma is acute, it can only be controlled by sincerely following the doctor’s advice and treatment.

There are two types of drugs used to treat asthma
1. Reliever drugs
Reliever drugs provide quick relief during attacks and relieve wheezing. They provide quick but temporary relief. Most of the relievers are bronchodialators that relax the muscles of airways, giving temporary relief and making it easy to breathe during an attack.

2. Preventer drugs
Preventer drugs are used to prevent the occurrence of attacks. Most of the them are corticosteroids. These corticosteroids slow down the process of mucus formation, thus reducing blockages and inflammation of the airways. Other non-steroidal drugs like sodium chromoglicate and leucotriene are given to reduce allergic response to substances that cause asthma.

The drugs and medications for asthma are most effective when inhaled, as they directly act on the lungs and airways, and also produce less side effects. While these drugs are generally taken through an inhaler, larger quantities can be taken through a nebulizer.

How to use an inhaler

  • Remove cap of the inhaler and shake the inhaler before use.
  • The correct way to hold the inhaler is by placing your thumb at the bottom of the plastic mouth piece and your index finger atop the metal canister.
  • First, sit or stand straight. Tilt your head slightly backwards and breathe out completely emptying your lungs.
  • Open your mouth and hold the inhaler about 2 inches from your mouth. (You can also hold it in your mouth between the teeth. Seal your lips tightly while holding your tongue under the mouthpiece.)
  • Take a deep breath and exhale. As you start breathing in, press down the metal canister and take a slow, complete breath. It ideally takes about three to five seconds to fill the airways and lungs. To let the medicine enter the airways and settle in your lungs, you will have to hold your breath for about10 seconds.
  • You will have to wait for at least one minute before you proceed to take another puff from the inhaler. Repeat the procedure to take the number of puffs advised by your doctor.
  • Don’t forget to replace the cap of your asthma inhaler once you are done.
  • As many asthma medications contain steroids, you must gargle with a mouthwash after every use.

How to use a nebulizer
The medicines that are used in the nebulizers come in a liquid form. It is easy to breath in the medicine using a nebulizer, as it converts the medicine into a mist form. Nebulizers come in compact designs and are easy to carry along as well. They also come in more advanced mechanisms, that make use of air compressors and sound vibration. These high-end gadgets are known as ultrasonic nebulizers.

Steps involved:

  • Attach the hose to the air compressor
  • Fill the prescribed medicine into the medicine cup, and connect the mouth piece and hose to the medicine cup
  • Place the mouthpiece of the nebulizer in your mouth and breathe until you inhale all the medicine. It takes approximately 10 to 15 minutes to inhale the entire dose of medication.
  • After you finish using the nebulizer, clean the medicine cup and mouth piece thoroughly with water and then air dry the equipment.

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