Asthma is a chronic condition that makes breathing difficult during an attack due to the narrowing and swelling up of the respiratory tract. The frequency and severity of the attacks may vary. In severe cases, it may lead to fatal respiratory compromise if not managed.
Asthma attacks are usually due to a combination of a variety of genetic and environmental factors. Some common triggers that may precipitate this condition are:
- Cold air
- Certain scents
- Respiratory infections
- Air pollutants
- Certain medications
- Acid reflux
- Food preservatives
Constant exposure to these triggers, and family history of this disease or clinical history of another allergic condition increases the chances of having this disease.
The signs and symptoms of this disease include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or tightness
- Coughing or wheezing worsened by common cold or flu
An increase in the frequency or severity of the attacks is a complication of worsening this health condition and must be managed by a physician on an urgent basis.
After a careful history and clinical assessment, following tests can be conducted for asthma:
- Lung function tests (spirometry, peak flow)
- Methacholine challenge
- Imaging (Chest XRay, CT, etc)
- Allergy testing
- Provocative tests (to diagnose exercise or cold induced asthma)
The mainstay of management of this disease is careful control against triggers and prevention of exposure. Asthma attacks should also be carefully documented so as to direct treatment plans. Two classes of drugs exist for asthma:
- Short Term Relief: Bronchodilators such as short term beta-agonists, ipratropium and steroids can be used for immediate relief during an attack.
- Long Term Treatment: Corticosteroids, Leukotriene modifiers, theophylline, long acting beta agonists etc. can be used to depress the mechanism behind asthma over time.