Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways to the lungs which causes the airways to swell, tighten and fill with mucus causing symptoms like coughing and chest tightness. While this condition may be a nuisance for some, for others who experience asthma attacks often, asthma can interfere with everyday life and lead to permanent narrowing of the airway that affects the ability to breathe.
WHAT CAUSES ASTHMA?
While the exact cause is unknown, it is believed that environmental factors combined with genetics may be the cause of asthma. This condition is also more common among those who have hay fever, are smokers, exposed to fumes and pollution and are overweight.
Although there isn't a cure for asthma, the symptoms can be managed to prevent severe asthma attacks and complications such as permanent tightening of airways.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Asthma can cause symptoms in certain circumstances, making it difficult to breathe and chest tightness.
Symptoms of an asthma attack include:
- shortness of breath
- chest tightness
- coughing and wheezing
- a whistling sound when exhaling
- trouble sleeping due to these symptoms
These symptoms may be experienced in certain situations such as one of the following:
- When exercising (especially worse when weather is dry and cold).
- When exposed to chemical fumes, gases or dust.
- When exposed to pollen, mould, pet dander and dust
As a Specialist Physician with experience in pulmonary conditions, Dr Kenaope has extensive experience in managing asthma patients. To rule out other pulmonary conditions or infections, diagnosis of asthma may include the following tests:
- Lung function tests – these tests may be done to measure the amount of air you can inhale and exhale, as well as to see if your lungs are oxygenating the blood sufficiently for the body to function correctly (this may also be tested using an arterial blood gas analysis). Lung function tests may include a spirometry, lung volume measurement, diffusing capacity or pulse oximetry test.
- Exercise stress test – this test may be done to test for exercise-induced asthma. By making you run on a treadmill, your breathing rate is increased, and Dr Kenaope can see if exercise triggers symptoms of an asthma attack.
- Peak Flow test – this A chest X-ray – may be done to view the presence of emphysema, as well as rule out other lung problems or heart failure.
Both of these tests are done before and again after giving the patient bronchodilator medication. If there is an improvement after the medication, asthma may be diagnosed. If he is still unsure, he may choose to do additional tests including:
- A CT scan – a scan of your lungs may help your physician detect structural abnormalities or conditions that may be aggravating breathing.
- Allergy testing – this may present an allergy that is also an asthma trigger.
- Methacholine testing – this diagnostic test is done by giving you Methacholine to inhale, which when inhaled causes a mild constriction of the airways. If a reaction occurs, asthma may be diagnosed.
Treatment may involve prevention of attacks and long-term management of symptoms. Medications may aid in reducing the inflammation in your airways that lead to attacks. Quick-relief inhalers (bronchodilators) can also help relieve constricted airways. In addition, allergy medications may be given to prevent triggers from causing an asthma attack.
For long-term management and in cases for attacks, inhalers with corticosteroids, long-acting beta-agonists or combination inhalers may be used to relieve symptoms. These are quick-relief inhalers that can be used to ease symptoms immediately. You should not, however, need to use this inhaler very often. If you begin using it more and more often, you should contact Dr Kenaope as your asthma may be getting worse.