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Asthma  
For many a "breath of fresh air" is a treasured thing.

 

healthIt's one of the many things we take for granted in our lives—the simple act of breathing. For many people, the process of moving air into their lungs to provide their cells with vital oxygen isn't such an easy or natural act due to asthma.

Those battling asthma comprise a significant group. According to the National Institutes of Health's National Heat, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), 20 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with asthma. The American Lung Association (ALA) adds that asthma is the most common chronic disorder experienced in childhood, affecting an estimated 6.2 million children under the age of 18. The ALA states that in 2004, asthma was responsible for an estimated 14 million lost school days for children, making it the leading cause of absenteeism among chronic conditions. In adults, asthma resulted in an estimated 14.5 million lost workdays in the same year. The NHLBI notes that there is a close relationship between asthma and allergies and that most, but not all, people with asthma have allergies. Children are more likely to develop asthma if a family history of allergies and asthma is present. The NHLBI adds that asthma affects people of all ages but it most often begins in childhood—affecting more boys than girls. However, that fact changes in adulthood where women afflicted with asthma outnumber men.

healthAsthma is a chronic condition resulting in an inflammation of the airways and periodic episodes of obstruction when the already inflamed airways become even more so do to variety of stimuli or irritants. When asthma symptoms worsen, it is referred to as an asthma episode or attack. During an asthma attack, the NHLBI notes that the muscles around the airways tighten, making the airways more narrow and restricting the amount of air that can flow through them. As the inflammation increases, they become more and more swollen, further narrowing the passages. Cells in the airways may also secrete more mucus than normal, further narrowing the airways and making it harder to breathe. All of this results in symptoms like difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, coughing, and wheezing. In severe cases, asthma attacks can close the air passages so much that too little oxygen gets to the vital organs and leads to a medical emergency. Severe asthma attacks can be fatal. The ALA notes that in 2003, there were over 4,099 deaths attributed to asthma (although asthma deaths among children are rare).

The ALA cites the following factors that may act to trigger asthma in both children and adults:

  • Allergic reactions to allergens including animal dander, cockroaches, dust, feathers, food, mold, and pollen.
  • Cigarette smoke (including secondhand smoke)
  • Excitement
  • Exercise
  • Exposure to cold air or sudden changes in temperature
  • Respiratory infections and colds
  • Stress

Luckily, there are warning signs that an asthmatic condition may be present. The ALA notes early warning signs as:

  • An anxious or scared look
  • Coughing, usually at night
  • Fast breathing
  • Fatigue not related to hard work or play
  • Flared nostrils when trying to get air
  • Hunched-over body posture, can't stand or sit straight or relax
  • Restlessness during sleep
  • Unusual paleness or sweating
  • Vomiting

healthWith the help of a physician, asthma can be treated and controlled. Medicines for asthma consist of quick relief medicines including bronchodilators (beta-agonists), which act quickly to relax the tightened muscles around the airways to allow more air to flow freely. The medication, delivered to the lungs by using an "inhaler," should be used at the first sign of an asthma episode to prevent the symptoms from worsening. For those with more severe asthma, long-term medicines for controlling the chronic condition are often prescribed. Drug therapies include inhaled corticosteroids (which reduce the airway swelling) and a variety of medications (including leukotriene modifiers) which, when used in conjunction with inhaled corticosteroids, can help control the condition. The NHLBI states that with proper treatment, asthma sufferers should be free of symptoms, have fewer attacks, need to use quick-relief medicines less often, and should be able to assume normal activities without experiencing symptoms. As with any chronic medical condition, follow the medication regimen prescribed by your physician, get regular checkups, avoid things that worsen your condition, and alert your doctor to any changes in your condition. So if asthma has affected your family, educate yourself and your family members and "breathe easy" knowing it's a condition that can be controlled.

As with any health concerns, please consult your family physician for proper diagnosis and treatment options.

Sources:
American Lung Association—www.lungusa.org
National Institutes of Health National Heat, Lung, and Blood Institute—www.nhlbi.nih.gov

Articles are provided for the general interest of our readers. Gerber Life Insurance is not responsible for any content and recommends that you consult the appropriate professional with any questions or concerns you may have concerning any financial or health related issues.



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