Asthma is a long-term condition affecting children and adults. The air passages in the lungs become narrow due to inflammation and tightening of the muscles around the small airways. This causes asthma symptoms: cough, wheeze, shortness of breath and chest tightness. For some people, asthma is a minor nuisance. For others, it can be a major problem that interferes with daily activities and may lead to a life-threatening asthma attack.
The symptoms of asthma are intermittent and are often worse at night or during exercise. Other common “triggers” can make symptoms of asthma worse. Triggers vary from person to person, but can include viral infections like colds, dust, smoke, fumes, changes in the weather, grass and tree pollen, animal fur and feathers, strong soaps, and perfume. Asthma cannot be cured, but its symptoms can be controlled. Because asthma often changes over time, it’s important that you work with your doctor to track your signs and symptoms of it and adjust your treatment as needed.
CAUSES OF ASTHMA
Many different factors have been linked to an increased risk of developing asthma, although it is often difficult to find a single, direct cause.
- Asthma is more likely if other family members also have asthma – particularly a close relative, such as a parent or sibling.
- Asthma is more likely in people who have other allergic conditions, such as eczema and rhinitis (hay fever).
- Urbanization is associated with increased asthma prevalence, probably due to multiple lifestyle factors.
- Events in early life affect the developing lungs and can increase the risk of asthma. These include low-birth weight, prematurity, exposure to tobacco smoke and other sources of air pollution, as well as viral respiratory infections.
- Exposure to a range of environmental allergens and irritants are also thought to increase the risk of asthma, including indoor and outdoor air pollution, house dust mites, molds, and occupational exposure to chemicals, fumes, or dust.
- Children and adults who are overweight or obese are at a greater risk of asthma.
Asthma symptoms vary from person to person. You may have infrequent asthma attacks, have symptoms only at certain times — such as when exercising — or have symptoms all the time.
Asthma signs and symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing, especially at night or in the morning
- Chest tightness or pain
- Wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe) when exhaling, which is a common sign of asthma in children
- Trouble sleeping caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
- Coughing or wheezing attacks that are worsened by a respiratory virus, such as a cold or the flu
- Tightness, pain, or pressure in your chest
- Difficulty talking
- Feelings of anxiety or panic
- Pale, sweaty face
- Blue lips or fingernails
Not every person with asthma has the same symptoms in the same way. You may not have all of these symptoms, or you may have different symptoms at different times. Your symptoms may also vary from one asthma attack to the next, being mild during one and severe during another. Some people with asthma may go for long periods without having any symptoms. Others might have problems every day. In addition, some people may have asthma only during exercise or with viral infections like colds.
Signs that your asthma is probably worsening include:
- Asthma signs and symptoms that are more frequent and bothersome
- Increasing difficulty breathing, as measured with a device used to check how well your lungs are working (peak flow meter)
- The need to use a quick-relief inhaler more often
For some people, asthma signs and symptoms flare up in certain situations:
- Exercise-induced asthma, which may be worse when the air is cold and dry
- Occupational asthma, triggered by workplace irritants such as chemical fumes, gases or dust
- Allergy-induced asthma, triggered by airborne substances, such as pollen, mold spores, cockroach waste, or particles of skin and dried saliva shed by pets (pet dander)
Asthma is marked by inflammation of the bronchial tubes, with extra sticky secretions inside the tubes. People with asthma have symptoms when the airways tighten, inflame, or fill with mucus.
There are three major signs of asthma:
- Airway blockage. When you breathe as usual, the bands of muscle around your airways are relaxed, and air moves freely. But when you have asthma, the muscles tighten. It’s harder for air to pass through.
- Inflammation. Asthma causes red, swollen bronchial tubes in your lungs. This inflammation can damage your lungs. Treating this is key to managing asthma in the long run.
- Airway irritability. People with asthma have sensitive airways that tend to overreact and narrow when they come into contact with even slight triggers.
When to see a doctor?
Doctors rank how bad asthma is by its symptoms:
- Mild intermittent asthma. Mild symptoms less than twice a week. Nighttime symptoms less than twice a month. Few asthma attacks.
- Mild persistent asthma. Symptoms three to six times a week. Nighttime symptoms three to four times a month. Asthma attacks might affect activities.
- Moderate persistent asthma. Daily asthma symptoms. Nighttime attacks five or more times a month. Symptoms may affect activities.
- Severe persistent asthma. Ongoing symptoms both day and night. You have to limit your activities.
Severe asthma attacks can be life-threatening. Work with your doctor to determine what to do when your signs and symptoms worsen — and when you need emergency treatment. Signs of an asthma emergency include:
- Rapid worsening of shortness of breath or wheezing
- No improvement even after using a quick-relief inhaler
- Shortness of breath when you are doing minimal physical activity
- You have a hard time breathing. You can measure this with a device called a peak flow meter.
Contact your doctor
- If you think you have asthma. If you have frequent coughing or wheezing that lasts more than a few days or any other signs or symptoms of asthma, see your doctor. Treating asthma early may prevent long-term lung damage and help keep the condition from getting worse over time.
- To monitor your asthma after diagnosis. If you know you have asthma, work with your doctor to keep it under control. Good long-term control helps you feel better from day to day and can prevent a life-threatening asthma attack.
- If your asthma symptoms get worse. Contact your doctor right away if your medication doesn’t seem to ease your symptoms or if you need to use your quick-relief inhaler more often.
Don’t take more medication than prescribed without consulting your doctor first. Overusing asthma medication can cause side effects and may make your asthma worse.
- To review your treatment. Asthma often changes over time. Meet with your doctor regularly to discuss your symptoms and make any needed treatment adjustments.
TYPES OF ASTHMA
There are several types of asthma:-
- Adult-onset asthma. Asthma can start at any age, but it’s more common in people younger than 40.
- Status asthmaticus. These long-lasting asthma attacks don’t go away when you use bronchodilators. They’re a medical emergency that needs treatment right away.
- Asthma in children. Symptoms can vary from episode to episode in the same child. Watch for problems like:
- Coughing often, especially during play, at night, or while laughing. This may be the only symptom.
- Less energy or pausing to catch their breath while they play
- Fast or shallow breathing
- Saying their chest hurts or feels tight
- A whistling sound when they breathe in or out
- Seesaw motions in their chest because of trouble breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Tight neck and chest muscles
- Weakness or fatigue
- Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. You might hear this called exercise-induced asthma. It happens during physical activity, when you breathe in air that’s drier than what’s in your body, and your airways narrow. It can affect people who don’t have asthma, too. You’ll notice symptoms within a few minutes after you start to exercise, and they might last 10 to 15 minutes after you stop.
- Allergic asthma. Things that trigger allergies, like dust, pollen and pet dander, can also cause asthma attacks.
- No allergic asthma. This type flares in extreme weather. It could be the heat of summer or the cold of winter. It could also show up when you’re stressed or have a cold.
- Occupational asthma. This usually affects people who work around chemical fumes, dust, or other irritating things in the air.
- Eosinophilic asthma. This severe form is marked by high levels of white blood cells called eosinophils. It usually affects adults between 35 and 50 years old.
- Nocturnal asthma. Your asthma symptoms get worse at night.
- Aspirin-induced asthma. You have asthma symptoms when you take aspirin, along with a runny nose, sneezing, sinus pressure, and a cough.
- Cough-variant asthma. Unlike with other types, the only symptom of this kind of asthma is a long-term cough.
Home remedies can help ease everyday symptoms like coughing and sleeping issues. You should always stick to your care plan and get medical help if needed.
Here are some research-backed methods you can use to help relieve your asthma symptoms.
1. Breathing exercises for asthma
People with asthma often have different breathing patterns than healthy people – asthmatics may breathe more quickly or have uneven breath lengths. This can lead to stale air building up in your lungs and leaving less room for your diaphragm, the muscle that sits underneath your lungs, to expand and bring in new oxygen.
One way to change this is by using breathing exercises. The goal of breathing exercises is to help you get rid of stale air, take in more fresh oxygen, and train your diaphragm to move normally while you breathe.
Practicing breathing techniques can also help you feel more in control of your breathing, which can be difficult for people with asthma,
Two of the most common exercises you can use are pursed lip breathing and diaphragmatic or belly breathing.
Pursed lip breathing
Pursed lip breathing can help to slow down your breathing and keep your airways open for longer periods. This allows more oxygen to flow into your lungs in each breath. You can do this by following these steps:
- Breathe in through your nose with your mouth closed while counting to two.
- Purse your lips as if you are going to blow out a match.
- Blow out through pursed lips while counting to four, without forcing the air out.
- Keep breathing like this until your breathing feels easier.
Diaphragmatic or belly breathing
This kind of breathing can help you engage your diaphragm to fully empty your lungs, rather than using your chest muscles for more shallow breathing. You can do this by taking these steps:
- Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.
- Breathe in through your nose, feeling your belly rise.
- Breathe out through your mouth for twice as long as your inhale, feeling your belly fall.
- Repeat these steps, trying to keep your chest still and let your belly do the work to rise and fall with each breath.
For both of these exercises, it’s best to practice for 5-10 minutes each day. Try to practice while your breathing is normal, so you will be more comfortable using the exercises when you are feeling short of breath.
2. Yoga for asthma
Asthma is an inflammatory disease that causes difficulty in breathing, coughing, and tightness in the chest, wheezing and bronchospasm. Caused by environmental and genetic factors, asthma is a long term condition in which the airways of the lungs become swollen and inflamed. Working out can give you relief from asthma but physical activity can be a challenge for those suffering from the condition.
1. Sukhasana pose (Easy pose)
This relaxing and simple pose is great for asthma relief. It focuses on your breathing and improves the lung function. It will also relieve stress. It is the pose you use for meditation. It is advisable to do this asana in the morning and sit in this pose for as long as possible.
Dandasana stretches your chest and improves your posture. The pose is known to treat asthma. It also strengthens your core and back muscles.
3. Upavistha Konasana (Seated Wide Angle Pose)
The seated wide angle pose or upanvistha Konasanma opens up your chest and stretches your upper body. It will help you breathe better. It is advisable to perform this asana on an empty stomach in the morning. You can also do it in the evening but make sure you do it four to six hours after your last meal.
3. Diet for asthma
There’s no specific diet recommended for asthma, but there are some foods and nutrients that may help support lung function:
1. Vitamin D
Getting enough vitamin D may help reduce the number of asthma attacks in children ages 6 to 15, according to the Vitamin D Council. Sources of vitamin D include:
- milk and fortified milk
- fortified orange juice
If you know you have allergies to milk or eggs, you may want to avoid them as a source of vitamin D. Allergic symptoms from a food source can manifest as asthma.
2. Vitamin A
Children with asthma typically had lower levels of vitamin A in their blood than children without asthma. In children with asthma, higher levels of vitamin A also corresponded to better lung function. Good sources of vitamin A are:
- sweet potatoes
- leafy greens, such as romaine lettuce, kale, and spinach
An apple a day may keep asthma away. Apples were associated with a lower risk of asthma and increased lung function.
Bananas might decrease wheezing in children with asthma. This may be due to the fruit’s antioxidant and potassium content, which may improve lung function.
Children ages 11 to 19 who had low magnesium levels also had low lung flow and volume. Kids can improve their magnesium levels by eating magnesium-rich foods such as:
- pumpkin seeds
- Swiss chard
- dark chocolate
Inhaling magnesium (through a nebulizer) is another good way to treat asthma attacks.
4. Herbal remedies for asthma
Herbs alone cannot treat asthma, but adding natural supplements into your treatment may help relieve your symptoms. But before trying any natural supplement, you should always check with your doctor or asthma specialist.
Two herbal remedies that may help ease asthma symptoms include:
You may already have this bright yellow spice in your pantry for cooking flavorful curries and other dishes. Turmeric gets its color from curcumin. This natural coloring agent can also reduce inflammation. Turmeric may help with arthritis and even cancer. Researchers found that the supplement helped reduce airway obstruction and could be a helpful complementary treatment for asthma. Note that this is only one small study, and more research is needed to determine the benefits and risks.
This sweet and natural substance may help different aspects of your asthma. Honey can smooth your airways and decrease the tickle that causes you to cough. Adults can take two teaspoons of honey at night to reduce a cough. You can even infuse honey with herbs like turmeric to ease your symptoms more. Honey has been shown to help asthma symptoms in rabbits. Researchers gave honey converted into a gas to 40 rabbits and found their asthma symptoms lessened. Still, this doesn’t mean honey can help asthma symptoms in humans. Further research is needed to determine if this method of dispensing honey can help people with asthma.