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Asthma: The Basics

Unless someone in your family or a friend has asthma, you may not know much about the disease. Although actual causes and sources of acquiring asthma are not fully understood, it is known that the disease is often 

hereditary, and it is common among people with allergies and with smokers and people subjected to smoke. Asthma affects the lives of between 12 and 15 million Americans. Children are most susceptible to acquiring the disease and asthma affects over 10% of all children age 18 and under. Premature babies and babies with low birth weights are often afflicted with asthma. There is a reduced likelihood of suffering from asthma among children who have been breast fed. 

The usual signs of asthma are wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, expulsion of sputum, rapid heart beat, rapid breathing, over-inflation of the chest, ice-cold feet, and coughing. Aggravated episodes may trigger what is referred to as an “asthma attack.” Asthma sufferers may have prolonged periods without presenting symptoms of the disease. Clinical studies have shown a positive reduction of asthmatic attacks among people afflicted with bronchial asthma who also suffer from sleep apnea, when they are treated for sleep apnea.

Asthma is a chronic disease of the respiratory system. People with asthma have airways that occasionally constrict, followed by severe inflammation, and overproduction of mucous. There are a variety of triggers for asthmatic attacks including stress, humidity, exposure to viral infections such as the common cold, cold air, hot air, exercise, or exposure to materials to which the asthmatic individual is allergic. The symptoms of asthma can be minor or serious, and occasionally can be deadly. 

Asthmatics have the following three major features of the disease. First, asthmatics have airway obstructions. Triggers and materials which aggravate asthmatics cause the muscle bands surrounding the airways to tighten, blocking free airflow. Asthmatics also have red, swollen bronchial tubes. Finally, asthmatics have sensitivity and irritability of the airway passages, so that even minor triggers can precipitate an asthma attack. A peak flow meter can be used to test for asthma. It is a simple test which measures your baseline lung functions. Although the disease cannot be cured, the effects of asthma can be controlled in a variety of ways.

The term “asthma” is derived from a Greek word meaning “sharp breath.” Historians believe that Hippocrates was the first to designate the disease as “asthma” in about 450 BC. Bronchodilators first appeared in 1901, and subsequent research in the 1960s led to the discovery of the inflammatory component of asthma. Thereafter, anti-inflammatory drugs were added to asthma medications.

Low-income populations have a disproportionate rate of asthma sufferers, due in part to pollution found in major cities, particularly in high industrial areas. It has even been suggested that asthma can be acquired from cockroaches in living quarters. Additional sources that can exacerbate asthma attacks are pet dander, dust mites, pollen, mold spores, cleaning solutions, influenza, and sinus infections. There are many Olympic athletes who have asthma.

Note: Some statements in this article may not be approved by the FDA. This article is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as professional medical advice.

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