Asthma is a common chronic disease. It refers to the constriction and inflammation of the airways in response to environmental triggers. The constriction can be accompanied by mucus along the airways which further restricts breathing.
Symptoms of this disease include wheezing, coughing, difficulty of breathing etc. Increased attention is being paid to asthma due to its mounting prevalence among urban populations. Estimates say that as many as one in four urban children suffer from asthma. Medical studies continue to probe into the causes of asthma.
The best understood cause of asthma is the body's response to inhaled allergens. An allergen is a substance that initiates an immune-system response even though the substance is not technically harmful. Research suggests that genetic characteristics are the reason for each individual's response to allergens.
For asthmatics the inhalation of allergens causes the body to produce mucus in the lungs along with chemicals that cause inflammation of the airways. This combination of inflammation and congestion in the airways produces the symptoms associated with asthma. Because the body treats the allergens as it would a bacterial or viral infection the immune system stores a memory of the allergen in order to fight it off more effectively should it return.
This response of the auto-immune system helps prevent symptoms of legitimate repeat infections, but the automatic response to allergens makes it impossible for asthmatics to ignore the complications of losing airflow through the lungs. Another way of describing this phenomenon is to say that asthmatics have "hypersensitive" airways, being hypersensitive to certain triggers (e.g. allergens).
Besides allergens other triggers include pollution, various sulfite compounds produced by industry, chloride based compounds found near pools, certain medications including aspirin, psychological stress and even simple changes in temperature. Since the list of triggers goes on asthmatics need to identify the trigger causing their asthma and take the necessary steps to treat the disease.
The most simple treatment is simply limiting or stopping all exposure to the identified cause of asthma. For example, if pet dander induces an asthma attack in someone, that person should avoid pets and other animals as much as possible.
However, because the source of asthma can be complex, other treatment options should be considered: the use of inhalers for immediate relief or even long lasting relief, oral medications, and possibly alternative methods like the Buteyko method which teaches a specific way of breathing.
In all instances patients should discuss treatment with a competent and trusted physician in order to formulate the best treatment plan possible.
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