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The global incidence of asthma is increasing in the last decades. This causes significant loss of individual productivity and incur rising cost to healthcare systems. The triggering mechanisms of asthma are still not fully understood.

As a medical condition, asthma is known from the early human history. In ancient Egypt, it was treated by heating some medicinal herbs and inhaling their fumes. In China, herbs with ephedrine were inhaled to treat attacks

The nature of disease, however, was properly investigated relatively recently. It was only in the 1960’s when asthma was duly recognized as an inflammatory illness.
Read More: What Is Asthma?

Asthma affects lungs and its airways. Some patients experience recurrent episodes of wheezing cough during nighttime or early morning as well as chest tightness. Unlike other lung diseases, asthma is reversible. It is characterized by the narrowing of airways. This obstruction is caused by inflammation that may be triggered by irritants either from within the body or from the environment. 

While some cases of asthma resolve on their own, some require treatment.

Asthma can be caused by a variety of factors

External stimuli are various and may include animal hair, pollen, changes in humidity and weather, and smoking.

Emotional stress and respiratory infections may also trigger an attack.

Medication such as Aspirin, beta-blockers, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) are also contributing factors. One large-scale recent study that involved over 500,000 children even found that incidence may be due to the household exposure to asthma irritants such as cooking oil used in the open fire kitchens.

Susceptibility to asthma attacks may be caused not only by environmental factors, but by genetic predisposition as well. Individuals who have innate defect on the mucosal lining of the airways are found to be prone to developing asthma.

Individuals with asthma complain of mild wheezing cough. When the airways swell up, its surroundings tightens making hard for air to pass. This means that air can’t freely move in and out of the lungs since mucus obstructs the airways making breathing difficult. When left untreated, asthma may lead to more serious respiratory failures.

A range of treatments is currently available to manage asthma attacks

While we still have no definite cure for asthma, medications can help in managing the symptoms of this condition.

Short-term medications controls symptoms like airway inflammation and are usually inhaled. Long-term medicines, on the other hand, have to be taken even by asymptomatic patients.

Some long-term medicines, such as steroids and long-acting beta-agonists, are breathed in. A number of other drugs is taken orally. The latter drugs aim to lessen the number of attacks and reduce their severity. Inhalable corticosteroids are still considered the mainstay treatment and used to treat mild to moderate asthma.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Gary WK Wong, Bert Brunekreef, Philippa Ellwood et al. (July 2013) Cooking fuels and prevalence of asthma: a global analysis of phase three of the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC). The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, Volume 1, Issue 5, Pages 386 – 394
  • Slavin RG (November 2004) The elderly asthmatic patients. Allergy and Asthma Proceedings, Volume 25, Issue 6, Pages 371-373
  • Hoskins G, McCowan C et al. (January 2000) Risk factors and costs associated with an asthma attack. Thorax, Volume 5, Issue 1, Pages 19-24
  • Rebuck AS (July 2013) The global decline in asthma death rates: can we relax now? Asia Pacific Allergy, Volume 3, Issue 3, Pages 200-203
  • Visitsunthorn N, Lilitwat W et al. (June 2013) Factors affecting readmission for acute asthmatic attacks in children. Asian Pacific Journal of Allergy and Immunology, Volume 31, Issue 2, pages 138-141
  • Chen H, Blanc PD et al. (March 2008) Assessing productivity loss and activity impairment in severe or difficult-to-treat asthma. Value in Health, Volume 11, Issue 2, pages 231-239.
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