Asthma is a chronic disease of the lungs.
The airways of people with asthma are always inflamed, however, when an asthma attack occurs, it causes the inflammation to increase. Swelling occurs and the airways become narrowed or blocked, in turn, causing coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing and other symptoms.
Asthma attacks can be very serious and in some instances can lead to death.
Risk factors for developing asthma can include family history of:
- hay fever
Types of Asthma
Asthma is divided into two categories: Allergic (extrinsic) asthma and non-allergic (intrinsic) asthma.
Allergic asthma is the most common form of this disease. It is characterized by inflammation and obstruction of the airways.
This type of asthma is triggered by inhaling allergens such as dust mites, pollen, strong fumes, cigarette smoke, animal dander or secretions, mold, etc.
Allergic asthma is considered to be an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakes a harmless substance for a potentially dangerous one and reacts with an aggressive, sometimes deadly response.
As with allergic asthma, the non-allergic form of this disease is also characterized by airway obstruction and inflammation, however, non-allergic asthma is not an autoimmune disease.
Non-allergic asthma can be triggered by factors such as viruses, stress, anxiety, exercise, hyperventilation, cold air, dry air, and smoke or other irritants.
In both types of allergies, the bronchi, which are the airway branches leading to the lungs, become overly reactive and more sensitive to all types of asthma triggers.
The lungs develop an obstruction in airflow, causing difficulty with their moving air in and out. When this occurs, people with asthma can develop the following symptoms:
- shortness of breath
- rapid breathing
- feeling of tightness in the chest
- difficulty talking
- feeling of panic or anxiety.
The severity of symptoms, such as an increase in labored breathing, can develop rapidly, decreasing the amount of oxygen in your blood, and can be life-threatening if not treated immediately.
Blue lips and/or fingernails can be the first indication of a decreased oxygen level and the development of this life-threatening situation.
Many people with asthma only experience occasional wheezing attacks. Others may have persistent shortness of breath with periodic episodes of extreme shortness of breath, while still others may experience bouts of coughing as their main symptom.
Much research needs to be done to fully understand how to prevent, treat and cure asthma. However, people with asthma can lead healthy, active lives if there disease is properly managed.