All you need to know about Asthma
Asthma is a chronic respiratory disorder of the lungs in which there is inflammation (swelling) of the airways in our lungs. Due to this inflammation, the airways are narrowed and the lungs become vulnerable to various allergens which act as triggers for an asthma attack. Dust, cold, pollen, furry pets, and viruses and air pollutants, and even emotional agitation act as triggers for an asthma attack.
When a person comes in contact with a trigger, the inflamed airways are irritated leading to tightening of the muscles and excess mucus production which further constricts the passages, thereby inhibiting normal breathing and this at could even turn fatal.
Asthma triggers vary person to person. Though, there are some common triggers that are present in most of the patients. Among different triggers, airborne irritants are most difficult to resist as they enter the respiratory tract while breathing. Airborne irritants include traffic and industrial fumes, pollen, mold, animal dander (from dogs and cats), dust, household chemicals (air fresheners and aerosols), perfumed cosmetics and scented flowers etc.
The usual manifestations of asthma are repeated episodes of chest tightness, difficulty in breathing and cough. In children, asthma often manifests through a single symptom like cough which is more severe at night or early in the morning and remains persistent despite intake of various cough syrups and medications. Asthma symptoms vary from person to person and it is important to watch them carefully for a correct diagnosis by the doctor.
Although asthma is not curable, it is possible to gain complete control over it and lead a normal active life. There are several therapies and forms of treatment for asthma available in the market. However, it has now been accepted globally that the best and safest way to take asthma medication is by inhalation as it reaches your lungs directly and starts acting immediately. But if you are on tablet or syrup, the medication takes time to act as the medicine has to pass from the stomach to the blood and finally to the lungs. This could also result in several side effects. It is to be noted that in Inhalation therapy, the dosage needed is up to 50 times lesser than syrups or tablets and far more effective.
Asthma is a chronic disease which requires long-term treatment. Many patients once they feel better stops treatment after some weeks. This can be dangerous since stopping treatment can lead to reactivation of the disease and precipitate an asthma attack.
There are many reasons why patients stop medication. These include unnecessary concerns about side effects, myths about inhaler devices, social stigmas and sometimes cost of medication.
There are also several psychological barriers which lead to inhibitions such as dissatisfaction with healthcare professionals, inappropriate expectations, anger about one’s condition, underestimation of the severity of the condition and complacent attitude towards health. It is important that we overcome these barriers and understand the importance of inhalation therapy and adherence to it, if we have to control asthma.
It is important to diagnose asthma at an early stage as it helps preserve the condition of the lungs. Asthma usually manifests itself through symptoms like coughing, tightness in the chest, and wheezing but it is important to consider asthma as a diagnosis particularly if these symptoms are recurrent and consult a doctor at the earliest.
Simple tools like peak flow meter are available to diagnose and monitor asthma. Using currently recommended treatment, asthma can be fully controlled and people with asthma can lead a complete active life.
Many people treat symptoms like recurrent coughing, early morning coughing, breathlessness, and wheezing themselves, with cough medicines or over-the-counter drugs. Also, there is immense fear associated with the word ‘asthma’ and ‘inhalers’ and it is this inhibition towards the disease and its correct treatment that is leading to the suffering. The doctors at times find it difficult to convince the patient and therefore use an alternative term for ‘asthma’ like ‘bronchial spasms’ or ‘wheezing cough’ etc. to pronounce the diagnosis. Further, a doctor might have to prescribe oral tablets to some patients to ensure that they don’t give up entirely on the treatment due to fears associated with inhalers. Total control of asthma is possible and we as a nation must together break the myths on asthma and inhalers.
Initiation of inhalation therapy at the earliest helps in controlling the disease, prevents from attacks, preserves the condition of his lungs and also improves the overall quality of his life.
Dr. Prashant Chhajed
Consultant Chest Physician
Dr. Prashant Chhajed is currently the Chief Pulmonologist of the Lung Care and Sleep Centre at Fortis Hospitals Mulund and Vashi. He is also a Consultant Chest Physician at Lilavati and Nanavati Hospitals, Mumbai. With over 20 years of experience in Pulmonary Medicine, he has more than 120 scientific publications and has been regularly invited to lecture in various parts of the world. He has received national and international awards for the contribution of Pulmonary Research.
His areas of interests within Pulmonary Medicine include Interventional Pulmonology (Rigid Bronchoscopy, Pleuroscopy), Endobronchial Ultrasound guided Transbronchial Needle Aspiration
(EBUS TBNA), Sleep apnea, Interstial Lung Disease and Asthma.