Asthma is a condition in which your airways narrow and swells and produce extra mucus. This can make breathing difficult and trigger coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. For some people, asthma is a minor nuisance. For others, it can be a major problem that interferes with daily activities and may lead to a life-threatening asthma attack.
Asthma can’t be cured, but its symptoms can be controlled. Because asthma often changes over time, it’s important that you work with your doctor to track your signs and symptoms and adjust treatment as needed.
It isn’t clear why some people get asthma and others don’t, but it’s probably due to a combination of environmental and genetic (inherited) factors.
Asthma symptoms vary from person to person. You may have infrequent asthma attacks, have symptoms only at certain times, such as when exercising or have symptoms all the time.
Asthma signs and symptoms are:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness or pain
- Trouble sleeping caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
- A whistling or wheezing sound when exhaling (wheezing is a common sign of asthma in children)
- Coughing or wheezing attacks that are worsened by a respiratory virus, such as a cold or the flu
Types of Asthma
For some people, asthma signs and symptoms flare up in certain situations:
- Exercise-induced asthma, which may be worse when the air is cold and dry
- Occupational asthma, triggered by workplace irritants such as chemical fumes, gases or dust
- Allergy-induced asthma, triggered by airborne substances, such as pollen, mould spores, cockroach waste or particles of skin and dried saliva shed by pets (pet dander)
What is TYPHOID; Learn More
Asthma Risk factors
A number of factors are thought to increase your chances of developing asthma.
- Having a blood relative (such as a parent or sibling) with asthma
- Having another allergic condition, such as atopic dermatitis or allergic rhinitis (hay fever)
- Being overweight
- Being a smoker
- Exposure to secondhand smoke
- Exposure to exhaust fumes or other types of pollution
- Exposure to occupational triggers, such as chemicals used in farming, hairdressing and manufacturing
Asthma vs COPD
Asthma is characterized by reversible airway narrowing, whereas COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) typically has fixed airway narrowing. Some symptoms of COPD are similar to asthma, including wheezing, shortness of breath, and cough. The cough in COPD can be more productive of mucus than asthma, and patients with severe COPD may need oxygen supplementation. COPD is very often a result of cigarette smoke exposure, either direct or second hand, although severe asthma can evolve to COPD over time.
There is a newly described syndrome called asthma/COPD overlap syndrome that displays characteristics of both asthma and COPD.
There are some key asthma tests your doctor will use in diagnosing asthma. Some asthma tests, such as lung (or pulmonary) function tests or PFT, measure lung function. Other asthma tests can help determine if you are allergic to specific foods, pollen, or other particles. Blood tests give a picture of your overall health; specific tests also measure levels of immunoglobulin E (IgE), a key antibody that’s released during an allergic reaction. While everyone makes IgE, people who have allergies make larger quantities of this protective protein.
All of these asthma tests help your doctor determine if asthma is indeed present and if there are other coexisting conditions with asthma, such as allergies, GERD, or sinusitis.
Lung Function Tests
Lung function tests are asthma tests that assess lung function. The two most common lung function tests used to diagnose asthma are spirometry.
Spirometry is a simple breathing test that measures how much and how fast you can blow air out of your lungs. It is often used to determine the amount of airway obstruction you have. The methacholine challenge test may be performed if your symptoms and screening spirometry do not clearly or convincingly establish a diagnosis of asthma.
While a chest X-ray is not an asthma test, it may be used to make sure nothing else is causing your asthma symptoms. An X-ray is an image of the body that is created by using low doses of radiation to see internally. X-rays can be used to diagnose a wide range of conditions, from bronchitis to a broken bone. Your doctor may perform an X-ray exam on you in order to see the structures inside your chest, including the heart, lungs, and bones. By viewing your lungs, your doctor can see if asthma is likely to be causing your symptoms.
Heartburn and GERD
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly called GERD, is another condition that may worsen asthma. If your doctor suspects this problem, he or she may recommend specific tests to look for it.
Allergy testing may be recommended to identify any allergies that trigger asthma symptoms.
Sinuses – X-ray / CT Scan
The presence of nasal polyps or sinusitis may make asthma harder to treat and control. Sinusitis, also called sinus infection, is an inflammation or swelling of the sinuses due to infection. When the sinuses become blocked and filled with fluid, bacteria grow, causing infection and inflammation. Your doctor may order a special sinus X-ray or CT scan, to evaluate your sinuses if he suspects an infection.
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