Asthma Signs, Symptoms & Prevention In Adults, Toddlers & Children..Common Treatment Methods
Based on recent statistics, it is estimated that there are about 300 million persons suffering from asthma in the world today with about a quarter of a million deaths each year.
While this disease affects anyone regardless of age, the major sufferers tend to be children as the signs of asthma begin during this time.
What is asthma?
Asthma refers to a respiratory condition where a person’s bronchi (respiratory airways) are swollen and become so narrow that breathing becomes difficult.
This condition is a chronic one i.e. long-lasting and can interfere with a person’s normal life.
While there are several contributing factors that can lead to asthma – as we’ll consider later – the major cause may be due to an allergy.
Causes of asthma
As stated above, one major factor that contributes to asthma is exposure to an allergenic substance or some other hypersensitivity. However, the primary cause of asthma is still not known.
That said, the inflammation around the walls of the bronchi not only limits the passage of air through the lungs, but also increases the risk of allergic reactions.
According to researchers, among children, the boys have a higher risk of developing asthma than female children. This is due to the fact that the bronchi in boys are smaller than those in girls. Contrastingly, as they get older, the women tend to be more predisposed to the disease than men.
Risk factors that contribute to asthma
The following are some of the major factors that contribute to the development of asthma in both adults and children.
- Environmental factors: Environmental factors such as air pollution also play a part in the development of asthma. The fumes from paints and gas cookers in the home can trigger symptoms of asthma in sufferers. Other conditions such as cold air, humidity, and changes in the weather can also stimulate asthma.
- Pregnancy: Pregnancy also plays a part in contributing to the development of asthma. This risk is true, especially with children who are delivered through Caesarean section, with a 20% increase. It is rumored, that, the underlying reason may be due to exposure to microbes during the delivery process. Apart from this, pregnant women who smoke tobacco also put their unborn child at risk as well as children born prematurely.
- Smoking: Asthma risk increases with tobacco smoking, according to research. Symptoms of asthma like wheezing and difficulty breathing become prevalent when an asthmatic is exposed to smoke.
- Obesity: According to research, adults with a high body mass index (BMI), i.e. overweight or obese persons, tend to be more susceptible to asthma than normal-weight people. In this context, overweight persons refer to people with a BMI of over 25.
- Stress: Stress is touted as the underlying cause of several health problems, including asthma. According to studies, the risk of asthma development increases when the immune system is affected by stress.
- Genetic factors: Although studies on this matter are limited, there are, however, credible reports, which suggest that genetics also contribute to asthma. Moreover, according to the CDC (center for disease control), asthmatic parents are more likely to give birth to asthmatic children than non-asthmatic parents. This is also backed by the fact that more than half of all reported asthma cases in the United States are hereditary.
- Allergies: We have already stated that allergy is a major contributing factor to asthma development. This is true as virtually all asthmatics have one or more allergies. The exposure to allergens and the reaction of antibodies in the body against these allergenic substances often result to the inflammation of the bronchi – a sign of asthma. Examples of allergens that can lead to asthma include animal proteins, fungi, and cockroaches.
- Hypersensitivity: Atopy such as hay fever, eczema, and allergic conjunctivitis may also increase the risk of developing asthma. Statistical findings show that about half of children with eczema are more susceptible to asthma as they grow.
Signs and symptoms of asthma
Asthma can be a life-threatening disorder as it comes with several dangerous symptoms. Generally speaking, common symptoms of an asthmatic attack include pain in the chest region, wheezing and coughing, difficulty in breathing, and coughing. Other signs of asthma are increased heart rate, waking up early, and shortness of breath.
The symptoms of asthma can be aggravated when the person is exposed to asthma triggers such as allergens, air irritants, respiratory problems, and physical activities that may stress the bronchi.
While exposure to the aforementioned triggers can initiate an asthma attack, the symptoms can occur at any place and time and can last for as long as hours, or even days.
These symptoms and more can negatively affect the life of the sufferer by limiting their social involvement, which, in the long run, can lead to stress and depression. As such, it is advised that you seek professional medical help and by visiting an allergist.
Symptoms of asthma in children
Asthma in children, or pediatric asthma, comes with some conspicuous signs that can last for weeks. It is said that this chronic disease is the most common among children, especially among those living around asthma triggers.
According to research, most asthmatic children tend to start showing some signs of the condition before the age of five. While this might be tough for parents, it is, however, important that they do not take the matter lightly when they observe any of the following:
- Wheezing: this refers to breathing with a whistling sound.
- Coughing: the cough can be dry or with phlegm and can occur mostly during the night
- Difficulty breathing: the child can find it hard to breath normally due to the constriction in the bronchi.
- Shortness of breath after an exerting activity
- Increased phlegm production in the respiratory tract
- Chest pain
- Difficulty sleeping: Other symptoms such as coughing can make it difficult for an asthma sufferer to sleep well.
- Slow recovery from a respiratory ailment
- Frequent colds around the chest region
Symptoms of asthma in adults
Like children, the symptoms of asthma are the same.
How to diagnose asthma
Asthma can be diagnosed using three major components. These components are: physical examination, medical history, and breathing tests.
The medical history is the first step and will involve a disclosure of your personal history relating to allergies and symptoms of asthma as well as any other related information.
The physical examination, on another hand, is done to check for signs of asthma around the respiratory system. This process usually involves examining the chest and skin.
Breathing tests, or pulmonary function tests, are the last part of the three-pronged diagnostic process. These tests are basically done to ascertain the level and pace of breathing. One of such tests, called the spirometry test, is done to compare the breathing capacity of a patient with standard measurements based on the person’s age.
Treatment methods for asthma
It is important to state here that there is no cure for asthma. Since it is a chronic condition, the only way to treat it is by managing it.
A very important step for controlling asthma is by visiting your doctor regularly, for instance, every 3 to five weeks. This is so that your doctor runs some tests to know whether you are efficiently controlling the condition.
Medical treatment for asthma
Asthma medication: These are grouped into two: quick-relief medicine and long-term control medicine. While the goal of both categories is to bring relief, they function somewhat differently. Where the quick-relief medicines are used to bring instant relief, the long-term options are used for preventing the symptoms of asthma by reducing the inflammation.
An example of quick-relief asthma medicines is short-acting B2-agonists-bronchodilators while leukotriene modifiers and theophylline are examples of long-term asthma medicines. Both long-term and quick-relief medicines are good for treating asthma and are commonly combined for the maximum effect.
Most medications for asthma are in powdered form and are administered using an inhaler. Asthma medicines can also come in the form of pills, but they are less common.
Vitamin D: According to a 2013 report in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, researchers found that vitamin D can help in reducing the symptoms of asthma.
Non-medical treatment methods
Aside from the use of medications, there are reports, albeit unconfirmed, that the use of non-standard medical methods can help to allay the symptoms of asthma. Further, there is insufficient evidence for the use of therapeutic methods such as chiropractic and homeopathy in reducing asthma symptoms.
How to prevent asthma
Since the exact cause of asthma is still unknown and there is no cure, it also means that there is no way of preventing the disease. However, there are certain methods of preventing asthma attacks and complications.
- Follow an action plan: Regular check-ins with your doctor and following a well-designed plan for managing asthma is a good way of preventing asthma attacks.
- Avoid asthma triggers: Understanding your condition and identifying substances or situations that can initiate an asthma attack is another preventative measure. With the help of your doctor, you should know the asthma triggers that are peculiar to your situation.
- Vaccination: Respiratory conditions like pneumonia and flu can cause asthma attacks. To prevent this, it is wise to get vaccinated against these diseases.
- Always take your medication: This point cannot be overemphasized. The fact that your condition is improving should not be a license for you to discard your medicines. Thus, it is imperative that you always take your medication according to your doctor’s prescription.
- Look out for warning signs: Before an asthma attack, there are warning signs that you need to be aware of. Signs such as those previously mentioned in this article are not to be taken lightly.