Asthma is a condition of the airways and affects over 3 million people in the U.S. each year. Contrary to popular belief, there is no cure for asthma and it is not something you can grow out of. Rather, symptoms can be managed and prevented with proper treatment, allowing many people to lead a perfectly normal life. For affected individuals and family members, it is important to understand how asthma affects the airways.
What Does Asthma Feel Like?
Asthma symptoms vary from person to person, but in general – it makes it harder to breathe. It can interfere with daily activities. In some cases, people experience asthma attacks, which can be life-threatening. Depending on the person, asthma can be intermittent, mild, moderate, or severe.
Signs and Symptoms
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness or pain
- Trouble sleeping caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
- Whistling or wheezing sound when exhaling
- Coughing or wheezing attacks that get worse with the cold or flu
What Happens In Airways?
Air moves from the nose/mouth down the trachea (a large, hollow tube in the front of the neck) and into the lungs. When the trachea reaches the lungs, it splits into two bronchial tubes (one for each lung). The bronchioles fan out into the lungs; millions of tiny air sacs are present at the end of each bronchiole, functioning as oxygen exchange centers. As you breathe in, oxygenated air enters the lungs and oxygen is exchanged at the alveoli in each lung. With each exhale, deoxygenated air is expelled from the lungs.
An asthmatic’s lungs can become intermittently inflamed which makes the airways swell. It can also cause bronchoconstriction (the squeezing of the bronchial tubes) and extra sensitive or twitchy airways. Also, an asthmatic’s airways produce more mucus than healthy airways. All of these reasons contribute to trouble breathing.
Asthma Severity Scale
Severity is measured in the number of times someone experiences impairments and risks. Impairments include nighttime awakenings, interference with normal activity, the need to use bronchodilators, and decreased lung function (measured using spirometry). Risk refers to exacerbations that require oral corticosteroids, which should be used for emergencies only. Use a reference chart to help you classify the severity of your asthma.
Three types of asthma are known to be triggered by specific substances or reactions.
- Exercise-induced asthma: caused by strenuous exercise; triggered by cold or dry air, air pollution, chlorine in swimming pools, chemicals used with ice rink resurfacing equipment, and certain activities (long-distance running, swimming, soccer)
- Allergic asthma: triggered by airborne substances and allergens (pollen, mold, cockroaches, dust, pet dander)
- Occupational asthma: triggered by workplace irritants (chemical fumes, gases, dust)
The first step towards managing asthma is talking to your doctor about triggers. If you think you may have asthma, see your doctor immediately to prevent long-term lung damage. Together, you will come up with an individualized treatment and management plan that can help you lead the life you want.
To make an appointment with NY Allergy & Asthma, call us at (212) 517-3300 or schedule it online today!