Introduction to Asthma

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic illness that involves the respiratory system wherein the airways occasionally constrict, becomes inflamed, and is lined with excessive amounts of mucus, which is usually in response to one or more triggers. Examples of these triggers include exposure to allergens, exercise, and emotional stress.

Between episodes of asthma attacks, most patients feel well but can have mild symptoms and they may also remain short of breath after exercise for longer periods of time. The symptoms of asthmas, which can range from mild to life threatening, can usually be controlled with a combination or drugs and environmental changes.

Cases of asthma begin to rise in developed countries, with one of four children in urban areas affected with the illness.

Word origin and history

The word "asthma" is derived from the Greek term "aazein," or sharp breath. It first appears in Homer’s "Iliad," while Hippocrates (an ancient Greek physician) was the first to use it in reference to the medical condition in 450 BC, who thought that the spasms associated with asthma were more likely to occur among tailors, anglers, and metalworkers.

Six centuries later, Galen (another ancient Greek medical practitioner) wrote much about the disease, noting that it was caused by partial or complete bronchial obstruction.

In 1190 AD, Moses Maimonides (an influential medieval rabbi, philosopher, and physician) wrote a treatise about asthma, describing its prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.

In the 17th century, Bernardino Ramazzini (an Italian physician) noted a connection between asthma and organic dust. The use of bronchodilators began in 1901, but it was not until the 1960s that the inflammatory aspect of asthma was recognized, and anti-inflammatory medications were added to the regimen.

Signs and symptoms of asthma

In some individuals, asthma is characterized by chronic respiratory impariment, while in others it is an intermittent illness marked by episodic symptoms.

These may result from a number of triggering events. Some or all the following symptoms may be present in those with asthma: shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and inability to perform physical exertion.

During very severe attacks, which can be life-threatening, an asthma sufferer may turn blue due to lack of oxygen, and may also experience chest pains or even loss of consciousness. Feet may also become cold, while feeling numbness in the limbs and sweating of palms.

What triggers asthma

Episodes of asthma often are triggered by some condition or stimulus. Common triggers include exercise (especially prolonged running), infections such as flu, allergens like pollen and animal hair, irritants such as cigarette smoke and strong odors, change of weather, and emotional stress.

Treatment for asthma

The most effective treatment for asthma is identifying what triggers the disease and limiting or eliminating exposure to them.

There are also several relief and preventive medication that can control episodes of wheezing and shortness of breath as well as helping suppress the inflammation aspect of asthma such as bronchodilators and inhaled corticosteroid.

Many asthmatics also use alternative treatments such as acupuncture, homeopathy, yoga, certain breathing exercises, and even use of hookworms and over-the-counter cough syrups such as Guaifenesin.