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What is Asthma?

Definition
Asthma is a disease involving airway inflammation. It is characterised by airway hyper-responsiveness and attacks of reversible airway obstruction. affects the small airways (bronchioles) that carry air in and out of the lungs. If you have asthma your airways can become inflamed, swollen and contractdown with excess mucus production.



What are the causes?
Asthma often runs in families and is more likely if parents and siblings have asthma or other allergies. Children are more likely to develop asthma if their mother smoked during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. Tne of the most common predisposing factors for asthma are allergies to house dust mites, mould spores, pollen and pets, and sometimes food allergies. Most people find that there are several things that can trigger their asthma. Asthma triggers include: viral infections such as colds and flu, cigarette smoking in the home, certain forms of exercise such as running, exposure to cold dry air, laughing and other emotions, medication containing aspirin, and drinks containing sulphur dioxide.


What are the symptoms?
The main symptoms of asthma are: coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and a tight feeling in the chest.


Definitions
Relievers Medicines based on Salbutamol that are used to treat the symptoms of an asthma attack by dilating the small airways.


Preventers
Medicines (often based on steroids) that are usually breathed in from inhalers by people with asthma. Help to prevent the disease when taken on a regular basis.


Spacer Device
A plastic tube that fits between the inhaler and the mouth to increase the delivery of atomised medication to the lungs.


Adrenaline
A drug used to treat anaphylaxis. (It is very similar to the hormone called adrenaline that is produced naturally in our bodies and is responsible for feelings of excitement and stimulation.)

There are two main treatments for asthma - relievers and preventers. These come in a variety of delivery devices called inhalers that enable you to breathe the medicine in through your mouth, directly into your lungs. The addition of a Spacer Device increases the medication delivered to the lungs. Relievers are drugs called bronchodilators (based on adrenaline) that relax the muscles that surround the airways, making it easier to breathe. You should take these as directed by your doctor as soon as symptoms appear. Taking a dose of the reliever inhaler before exercise will increase your stamina and prevent breathing difficulty.

Preventers are drugs (usually low-dose steroids) that calm the inflammation in the airways and make them less sensitive. This means that you are less likely to react when your body comes across a trigger. The protective effect of this medicine is built up over a period of time so you should take your preventer regularly, as directed by your doctor.

If your asthma is really bad, your doctor may also prescribe a short course of steroid tablets to calm down your inflamed airways.

Theophylline and Aminophylline medication is rarely used in asthma treatment these days. Newer anti-inflammatory medication for asthma includes the Leukotriene Antagonists. These are particularly useful for brittle asthma and those patients with aspirin-sensitive asthma.

Contrary to popular belief, breathing exercises and physiotherapy play no useful role in asthma treatment.


What can be done to prevent asthma?

You can help yourself avoid asthma by taking your preventer medicine regularly and by doing all you can to avoid the things that trigger your asthma. You can also monitor your own asthma by asking your doctor to provide you with a peak flow meter, a simple device that measures the amount of breath in your lungs. If your asthma is caused by an allergy, you may be able to find out what you are allergic to by having special tests and then taking practical steps to avoid the allergen. Remember never to stop taking your preventer medication, even when your symptoms are stable. Don't wait until your symptoms get worse; they'll be harder to treat.
 

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