Winter is making its presence felt in the city already. Dipping mercury levels going sub 20 0 C have forced the people to take out their dyed woolens tucked away in the attics and basements. Regular morning walkers are seen tightly wrapped up in mufflers enjoying their strolls when one of them starts coughing. It seems like a regular cold at first, slowly turning into a wheeze with loss of breath. The morning chills have brought on an attack of Bronchial asthma.
Bronchial Asthma is a chronic illness, affecting the upper breathing airways of the lungs. There are 300 million asthmatics in the world, of which 10% are in India. Cases of childhood asthma have been rising since the past decade.Allergies and asthma are not the same. Allergies can bring on an attack of asthma. Substances that bring on an attack of asthma are called allergens or Triggers.
The various triggers for Bronchial asthma are:
- Infections like cold, pneumonia
- Smoking and passive smoke
- Air pollution
- Weather changes
- Emotional causes like anxiety
- Singing, crying, laughing
- Acid reflux
- allergens – food, mold, pollen, animal hair etc
- Drugs like aspirin, beta blockers etc
In Bronchial Asthma, you may experience the following symptoms :
- Coughing which is excessive keeping you awake at night
- Wheezing with shortness of breath
- Tightness felt in the chest region
- Cough with sputum, without fever
What really happens in asthma:
Our body’s immune system is designed to protect us against viruses and bacteria. When you are ‘allergic’ to a substance, the immune cells overreact and release chemicals like histamine. Histamine is released by special defence cells like IgE and leads to inflammation and swelling. This leads to symptoms like watery nose, itching in eyes, sneezing as it tries to remove the allergen from the body. The allergens that lead to mild symptoms like running nose and sneezing can cause a severe attack of asthma in others.
In allergic asthma, the allergens react with your immune system producing an excessive reaction leading to tightening of the muscles of the airways and a sudden shortness of breath. The symptoms for allergic and bronchial asthma remain the same.
How is asthma diagnosed:
Asthma is usually diagnosed by spirometry (a test to check the function of your lungs) and a chest x-ray to rule out other causes for the symptoms. If your asthma is allergic in origin, specific allergy tests may be advised by your allergist to identify the allergen.
Asthma treatment is symptomatic in nature as there is no curative asthma medication available as of now, though many drugs provide excellent results in keeping the symptoms under control. Asthma medications include asthma inhalers containing a bronchodilator ― a substance which temporarily widens the constricted airways and subsides the symptoms of breathlessness. Some inhalers also contain steroids in low doses which are used for better long term effects. Learn how to use the asthma inhaler properly. Keep a rescue inhaler with you at all times in cases of emergency.
If you are providing aid to an asthmatic patient, it is wiser of you know his plan of treatment from a healthcare provider.If you dont, here are some tips to provide relief to an asthmatic patient.
First aid tips for acute asthma:
- Make the person sit upright and loosen or remove any tight clothing, especially around the neck and chest.
- Assist in using the inhaler if they are carrying it. If not, use one from a first aid kit.
- If the asthma inhaler comes with a spacer, use the spacer.
- Ask the patient to inhale slowly and hold for 10 seconds.
- Give a total of 4 puffs with a minute’s gap between each puff.
- If using an inhaler without the spacer, shake the inhaler well and follow same instructions mentioned above.
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