Status asthmaticus; intrinsic asthma; exercise induced asthma; asthma; allergic asthma
Bronchial asthma is a lung disorder characterized by periodic attacks of wheezing alternating with periods of relatively normal breathing.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Bronchial asthma is usually intrinsic (no cause can be demonstrated), but is occasionally caused by a specific allergy (suc h as allergy to mold, dander, dust). Although most individuals with asthma will have some positive allergy tests, the allergy is not necessarily the cause of the asthma symptoms.
Symptoms can occur spontaneously or can be triggered by respiratory infections, exercise, cold air, tobacco smoke or other pollutants, stress or anxiety, or by food allergies or drug allergies. The muscles of the bronchial tree become tight and the lining of the air passages become swollen, reducing airflow and producing the wheezing sound. Mucus production is increased.
Typically, the individual usually breathes relatively normally, and will have periodic attacks of wheezing. Asthma attacks can last minutes to days, and can become dangerous if the airflow becomes severely restricted. Asthma affects 1 in 20 of the overall population, but the incidence is 1 in 10 in children. Asthma can develop at any age, but some children seem to outgrow the illness. Risk factors include self or family history of eczema, allergies or family history of asthma.
Decrease or control exposure to known allergens by staying away from cigarette smoke, removing animals from bedrooms or entire houses, and avoiding foods that cause symptoms. Allergy desensitization is rarely successful in reducing symptoms.
Additional symptoms that may be associated with this disease:
Listening to the chest (auscultation) reveals wheezing during an episode. However, lung sounds are usually normal between episodes.
Tests may include:
This disease may also alter the results of the following tests:
Treatment is aimed at avoiding known allergens and controlling symptoms through medication.
A variety of medications for treatment of asthma are available and include:
People with mild asthma (infrequent attacks) may use inhalers on an as-needed basis. Persons with significant asthma (symptoms occur at least every week) should be treated with anti-inflammatory medications, preferably inhaled corticosteroids, and then with bronchodilators such as inhaled Alupent or Vanceril. Acute severe asthma may require hospitalization, oxygen, and intravenous medications.
A peak flow meter, a simple device to measure lung volume, can be used at home to check on lung functions on a daily basis. This often helps determine when medication is needed or can be tapered in the case of an exacerbation of symptoms.
The stress of illness can often be helped by joining a support group where members share common experiences and problems.
Asthma is a disease that has no cure. With proper self management and medical treatment, most people with asthma can lead normal lives.
Calling your health care provider
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you or your child experience mild asthma symptoms (to discuss treatment options).
Call your health care provider or go to the emergency room if severe chest pain develops, an attack requires more intensive use of medication than usual or requires more medication than recommended in the prescription, or if shortness of breath occurs at rest.
Call your health care provider if symptoms worsen or do not improve with treatment or if new symptoms develop.
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