h-asthmaAsthma affects more than 10 million Americans, about 10% of all children, and is one of the leading cause of school and work absences as well as emergency room visits and hospital admissions. Over one billion dollars is spent each year on health care for asthma. Although its exact cause remains a mystery, and no cure exists, many excellent treatment options are available. As a result, most asthmatics live normal, productive lives.

Asthma is a respiratory condition characterized by recurrent episodes of “chest tightness”, shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing. It is due to the closure of the air tubes (bronchi) of the lungs preventing air from going in or coming out. There is also increased, thick, viscous mucous production in the bronchi which further hampers breathing. Inflammation occurs along the lining of the airways which if left untreated will lead to permanent lung damage. The end result is that breathing, especially exhalation becomes extremely difficult and there is a decrease in the oxygen available to the lungs. Asthma is frequently, but not uniformly, associated with a family history of allergic disease.

Asthma can be provoked by many different triggers; these include; viral infections, allergens, exercise/exertion/play, smoke (any cause), sinus disease, weather changes, emotions (panic attacks, anger), Aspirin, Tararazine (yellow food dye #5), Sulfites, cold air, industrial chemicals, perfume, paint, gasoline fumes, and household cleaners.

In children, viral infections and allergies are the major “triggers” of asthma. Removing known offending allergens from the environment such as dust, molds, and pets can be very effective in decreasing asthmas symptoms. Asthmatics should also avoid strong fumes and odors listed above which can provoke asthma. It is very important that there be no smoking in the house or car at any time, as medical studies show that asthmatics who live with smokers have more severe and frequent breathing problems.

How long does an asthma attack last?

The duration varies according to the severity of the attack. Mild episodes may last from a few minutes to a few hours. Several episodes; however, may go on for day or even weeks.

Why does physical exertion cause an attack?

During exercise, rapid breathing occurs through the mouth. As a result, the air which reaches the bronchial tubes has not been warmed and humidified by passing through the nose. This cold, dry air can trigger asthma. Asthma symptoms are generally at their worst after six to eight minutes of aerobic exercise. Over 70% of all asthmatics suffer some degree of exercise-induced asthma.

Should asthmatics avoid sports and exercise?

By taking preventative measures, asthmatics should be able to compete in any sport. Not all sports, however, are equally tolerated. In general, exercise and sports that involve prolonged periods of running are more likely to provoke asthma attacks that non-aerobic ones. Swimming is one of the best tolerated sports. In most instances, exercise-induced asthma can be controlled to allow participation in any sport. Many Olympic athletes, including several gold medal winners, have had asthma.

Is asthma a psychological disorder?

No, but emotional extremes can cause asthma.

Will some children outgrow asthma?

If non-allergic, 50% will have asthma symptoms resolve by puberty, but have an increased risk of asthma symptoms in the fourth and fifth decade of life. Allergic asthma is not out grown and can become very severe if not treated early.

Is asthma life-threatening?

During exacerbations asthma can be life threatening. Deaths occur more frequently in adults. Usually, however, the airways can be opened and the attack controlled with medications. In a severe attack, the airways may become completely blocked leading to respiratory failure. This condition is a medical emergency and requires immediate attention. It is important for asthmatics to learn how to prevent and treat exacerbations, to recognize and manage severe episodes, and when to seek professional medical help.

Become familiar with your Asthma Action Plan.

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