Diseases & Conditions


AsthmaCausesMedicationsPreventionRisk FactorsSymptomsTreatmentTypes

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a medical condition which is characterized by chronic inflammation of bronchial airways or tubes in the lungs, causing them to narrow and swell and resulting in difficult breathing.

Causes of Asthma

Researchers have been unable to pin point the exact cause for asthma. They believe that asthma results out of a combination of factors, including heredity and specific environmental factors which interact to cause this illness. Some of the factors which contribute to development of asthma include:

  • Atopy, or a hereditary tendency to develop various kinds of allergies.
  • Respiratory tract infections that were developed in childhood
  • Exposure to certain viral infections in childhood when the body’s immunity was developing or contact with airborne allergens dog dander, house dust mites.
  • Exposure to tobacco smoke can also constrict the airways and make them more reactive.

Medication for Asthma

Two types of medications can be prescribed for asthma patients – controller medicines and rescue medicines.

Controller medications help in minimizing inflammation which causes the occurrence of an acute asthma attack. Long lasting beta agonists, when inhaled, relax the muscles of the breathing passages by dilating them. They may also reduce inflammation. Examples for this are formoterol (Foradil) and salmeterol (Serevent).

Inhaled corticosteroids concentrate their effects within the breathing passages. Some of the commonly used ones are beclomethasone (Vancenase, Beclovent) and triamcinolone (Atolone, Nasacort).

Leukotriene inhibitors are used as a second line of drugs if the condition is mild. Examples are zileuton (Zyflo), montelukast (Singlulair), zafirlukast (Accolate). Methylxanthines, which are long acting bronchodilators, may also be prescribed. Cromolyn sodium can prevent the onset of an asthma attack due to exposure to certain allergens.

Rescue medications are those which are taken after the commencement of an asthma attack. These include short acting beta agonists which work quickly to open up breathing passages and remain effective for up to 4 hours. Examples of these are albuterol (Proventil and Ventolin).

Anti cholinergics have the same effects as beta agonists but they take a slightly longer time to achieve the effect. When they are used together, they have a more powerful effect. Ipratropium bromide (Atrovent) is an example of this.

Prevention of Asthma

  • Execute the asthma action plan
  • Identify triggering agents and try to avoid them
  • Get yourself regularly checked for your symptoms and control.

Risk Factors of Asthma

  • Asthma is closely linked with those who are intolerant towards certain allergens.
  • It mostly starts in childhood, with young boys being more prone to developing asthma than girls. However, in adults, more females have asthma than males.
  • Obese people are more susceptible to develop this illness.
  • Babies or secondary smokers who are exposed to tobacco smoke are likely to develop asthma.
  • Strong emotions and feelings can make asthma worse.

Symptoms of Asthma

There are 4 major symptoms that have been used to identify asthma:

  • Shortness of breath, exertion while breathing, especially at night.
  • Wheezing, the hissing or whistling sound, given while breathing out.
  • Coughing, worse during night and early morning. It may occur when exposed to dry and cold air, after exercise or it may be chronic.
  • A person may experience chest tightness with or without other symptoms.

Treatment for Asthma

Asthma is a chronic illness, the treatment for which can go on for a long time. The best you can do to improve your condition is to become a partner with the doctor and his/her support staff and use all resources – education, expertise and information to help yourself. Initial treatment depends on the severity of the disease and follow up asthma treatment will depend on how well you respond to the initial treatment.

Asthma treatment focuses on controlling the symptoms while administering the least amount of medications necessary. Any side effects should be reported immediately. Any worsening or abnormal changes in the symptoms should also be looked into promptly.

Types of Asthma

Asthma can be classified into two types – extrinsic and intrinsic asthma.

Extrinsic asthma is also called allergic asthma. It typically develops in childhood and is the more common form of asthma. It is estimated that nearly 80% children who develop asthma have documented allergies. Intrinsic asthma usually develops in adulthood and is not usually associated with allergies. Many cases appear to follow some respiratory tract infection.