Your respiratory system is one of the most complicated parts of your body. There are many diseases and conditions that can afflict various parts of this system, including asthma. Asthma is an extremely common condition, and it can happen for a variety of reasons. If you've ever experienced trouble breathing, shortness of breath, or inability to catch your breath, there's a good chance you have asthma.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a common and chronic condition of the lungs where your airways swell up, which means there's less room for air to travel through them. Because your airways are how oxygen gets in and out of your body, you may suddenly feel short of breath or like you can't breathe at all. For this reason, asthma can be extremely frightening, especially if you haven't been diagnosed with asthma and don't know what's happening.
Types of Asthma
- Allergy-Induced Asthma: Allergy-induced asthma is one of the most common forms of asthma. These types of attacks are triggered by airborne pathogens such as pollen, spores, mold, and other nasties.
- Nighttime Asthma: Because of how much asthma is affected by your sleeping cycle, symptoms can worsen when you're fast asleep. If you have this type of asthma, you'll find yourself waking in the middle of the night in the midst of a coughing or wheezing fit. This is one of the most common and dangerous types of asthma.
- Occupational Asthma: As the name indicates, occupational asthma consists of asthmatic attacks that are provoked by elements in the workplace. If you work around dust, chemicals, insulation, paint, and anything else consisting of tiny particles that get into your lungs, there's a good chance that you'll experience occupational asthma.
- Exercise-Induced Asthma: While most people with asthma will experience some degree of discomfort during exercise or strenuous activity, some people will experience symptoms only during exercise. This is known as exercise-induced asthma and occurs when you're heart rate is high, and you're gasping for air after a sprint or similar exercise.
Symptoms of Asthma
Regardless of your asthma type, symptoms are almost always the same.
- Trouble catching your breath
- Gasping, wheezing, or gulping for air
- Coughing/wheezing that worsens if you're sick, in addition to having asthma
- Wheezing sounds during exhalation
- Chest pain, pressure, or tightness
Causes of Asthma
While medical research and knowledge have taught us much about asthma, it's not fully known what causes it. However, because of the different types of asthma and who it affects, it's usually caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Regardless of what causes asthma in different people, the result is always a combination of mucus in the airways plus inflammation and narrowing of the same airways.
How is Asthma Diagnosed?
Properly diagnosing asthma usually occurs in a hospital or family practice where your doctor will administer a series of tests. These include spirometry and peak flow, which measure your ability to take deep breaths and how hard you can exhale. Based on the results, you can also take additional tests, including allergy tests, chest x-rays, and a methacholine test, which is known to induce asthma.
Treatment Options for Asthma
Regardless of what type of asthma you have, it's almost always treated with a variety of medications. Medications include rapid-relief medicines, allergy medications, and long-term medications. Long-term medications are what you take on a daily basis to reduce the possibility of an asthma attack, while quick-relief medications are there in case of an emergency.
Another treatment option that's available to select patients is bronchial thermoplasty. During this treatment, your doctor heats up the inside of your airways to reduce the smooth muscle inside of them. This treatment can reduce the possibility of your airways constricting, but it's only reserved for severe cases where medications don't help.