By Trevor Yip 9.5

Asthma is a common, constantly recurring long-term disease that affects the airways of the victim, thus making it extremely difficult for them to breathe when symptoms/asthma attacks occur. It can affect people of all ages, but children are the most easily afflicted. The intensity and frequency of the disease will differ from person to person. Common symptoms of asthma include wheezing, shortness of breath and coughing.

What Asthma Does to the Body:
In the body, airways are tubes that transport air to and from the lungs. When a person is afflicted with asthma, their airways are inflamed, making them extremely swollen and sensitive. As a result, if certain substances are inhaled, the airways will react strongly to them. When this happens, the muscles around the airways will tighten, narrowing the airways and limiting the air going through. To make things worse, the airway's condition may deteriorate, making them even more narrow. Lastly, the cells may start to produce more mucus than usual, thus severely limiting the amount of air passing through.

This set of reactions is what causes asthma symptoms, which happen each time the airways are irritated.
asthma.jpg

If symptoms are mild, they might disappear after minimal treatment. But most of the time, it will continue to get worse. If they intensify/other symptoms appear, it's classified as an asthma attack/flare ups/exacerbations. As such, treating symptoms as soon as possible is ideal, for severe asthma attacks may result in death.

Symptoms:
Symptoms of asthma include:
  • Coughing (especially during the night)
  • Chest tightness/pain/pressure
  • Wheezing
  • Being short of breath

What causes Asthma:
The true causes of asthma are, as of yet, still somewhat unclear. However, people have discovered a few things about how you get it:
  • Allergies are usually very likely to be the cause of asthma. See Triggers.
  • Additionally, children with allergies at a young age have a higher chance of developing it as they reach adulthood
Triggers:
Triggers are irritants that, as their name implies, triggers asthma in a person. They can be different for every person, and most commonly manifest as allergies.
Examples include:
  • Allergies
  • Dust
  • Air pollution
  • Exercise (see exercise-induced asthma)
  • Weather changes
  • Chemical irritants
  • Emotional changes (i.e. extreme anger)

Types of Asthma:
Contrary to popular belief, there are actually quite a few variants of the common disease asthma. They include:
  • Exercise-induced asthma: This particular type of asthma flares up during exercise and makes physical activity much more difficult. However, it is still highly recommended that victims continue to exercise in some way. Triggered because during exercise, we tend to breathe with our mouths, and because of that, the air isn't warmed up (like it should be when people breathe with their noses), which the airways may overreact to. Somewhat common, many Olympians are infected with it.
  • Occupational asthma: A variant that may be caused by substances in workplaces. These substances cause asthma by either: (1) an allergic reaction (similar to allergic asthma), (2) an irritant reaction (like people that react to smoke) or (3) a certain reaction that causes natural in-body chemicals to build up in the lung and cause an asthma attack. An example would be workers that handle chemicals being exposed to certain substances which develop into asthma symptoms.
  • Nocturnal asthma: There's a higher chance of experiencing asthma symptoms during sleep with this variant. A very severe (and surprisingly underestimated) disease due to the fact that the airways naturally narrow during sleep, stacked with the above-mentioned chain reaction. The main causes are, unlike the above two types, still very vague.

History of Asthma:
Asthma is in no way a recently discovered disease, it's first appearance dates back to ancient Egyptian times. One prescription they had back then was to mix a bunch of herbs and heat them on a brick, letting the infected breath in the scents.
Later on, a well-known rabbi called Moses Mamonides wrote a treatise for asthma for his patient. He stated that the dry climate of Egypt was extremely beneficial to asthma victims, so it was best to keep strong remedies unused. Instead, he recommended moderate food, drink, sexual activity and sleep, keeping away from polluted environments, and one very specific remedy: chicken soup, best made from fat hens.
For a long time, asthma was largely ignored, despite 5 patients filing in reports in the 1800s, it was still considered a rarely seen disease. Scientists also, at the time, had many inaccurate thoughts on the disease (for example thinking that asthma was not a physical disease, and is actually caused by mental problems), which were eventually refuted in the 1900s, and in the 1960s, scientists finally discovered that asthma was actually an inflammatory disease.

Treatment:
Asthma cannot be cured, but there are some forms of treatment that have been developed for it's victims:
  • Inhalers: These are used to absorb certain types of asthma medicine directly into the lungs so it's effects could come out quicker and have less side-effects. There are many different types of inhalers, complete with advantages and disadvantages.inhaler.jpg
  • Steroids: Considered to be the most important medicine for asthma victims, they prevent the swelling and abnormal mucus producing in the airways. Also makes airways less sensitive and less likely to start asthma symptoms.
  • Bronchodilators: They help the muscles around the airways to relax. An inhaler of the same name is used to inhale albuterol, which is what relaxes the muscles. Effects last only a few hours, however.

Prevention:
Preventing asthma also involves taking medication. To achieve this end, scientists have developed extremely strong medicines that stop/block/compete against creation of potential asthma-causing chemicals. Unfortunately, there aren't many other ways to prevent asthma, rather than cure it.
Bibliography:

Medications To Prevent Asthma Attacks. Eheathmd. Retrieved (2010, September 2) from http://www.ehealthmd.com/library/asthma/asthma_prevent.html


Symptoms of Asthma: Shortness of Breath, Chest Tightness and more. Webmd. Retrieved (2010, September 2) from http://www.webmd.com/asthma/guide/asthma-symptoms

Exercise-Induced Asthma: Symptoms, Treatments, Prevention, and Causes. Webmd. Retrieved (2010, September 2) from http://www.webmd.com/asthma/guide/exercise-induced-asthma


Asthma. World health organization. Retrieved (2010, September 2) from http://www.who.int/topics/asthma/en/


Nocturnal Asthma (Nighttime Asthma) Prevention & Treatment. Webmd. Retrieved (2010, September 2) from http://www.webmd.com/asthma/guide/nocturnal-asthma-nighttime-asthma


Occupational Asthma Causes, Diagnosis, Treatments and More. Webmd. Retrieved (2010, September 2) from http://www.webmd.com/asthma/guide/occupational-asthma-work-related-asthma


Asthma, What Is. National heart lung and blood institute. Retrieved (2010, September 2) from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Asthma/Asthma_WhatIs.html


Using Inhalers. Ehealthmd. Retrieved (2010, September 2) from http://www.ehealthmd.com/library/asthma/asthma_inhalers.html


Allergic Asthma Symptoms, Treatment, Allergy Triggers, and More. Webmd. Retrieved (2010, September 2) from http://www.webmd.com/asthma/guide/allergic-asthma


Asthma Types: Exercise-Induced, Cough-Variant, Occupational, Nighttime, and More!. Webmd. Retrieved (2010, September 2) from http://www.webmd.com/asthma/guide/types-asthma?page=2