Asthma is a chronic lung condition which is characterised by narrowing of airways due to swelling and increased production of mucus inside the airways. Wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, cough are among the main symptoms of an asthma attack. World Asthma Day is celebrated every year on the first Tuesday of May by Global Initiative for Asthma, (GINA), a World Health Organization collaborative organisation founded in 1993 to raise awareness of the disease worldwide. This year it is being observed on May 2. Asthma can be managed by taking regular medicine and avoiding the triggers that can cause an attack. (Also read: World Asthma Day 2023: Is it asthma or bronchitis? Know the difference in symptoms)
"Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that affects millions of people worldwide, including both children and adults. It is a condition that can cause severe breathing difficulties and can even be life-threatening if left untreated. While asthma cannot be cured completely, it can be managed through proper treatment and preventive measures. On this World Asthma Day, let us raise awareness about the disease and improve all aspects of asthma care for patients. The theme for this year's World Asthma Day "Asthma Care for All" aims to promote universal access to quality asthma care, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, income, or geographical location," says Dr. Gowri Kulkarni, Head of Medical Operations, MediBuddy.
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Symptoms of asthma
Cold and dry winter air, high humidity during the monsoon season, and hot and humid summers can all trigger or worsen asthma. Nowadays, increased outdoor air pollution from vehicular traffic and the construction of new buildings have led to a significant change in the Air Quality Index (AQI), which can aggravate the risk of attacks.
"Asthma symptoms can vary from person to person, and they can also change over time. Some common signs of asthma include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, fatigue, trouble sleeping, and shortness of breath. Some people may also experience rapid breathing, difficulty speaking, and anxiety. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is essential to seek medical help immediately, as asthma attacks can be life-threatening," says Dr Kulkarni.
Types of asthma
Some of the common types of asthma are allergic asthma, aspirin-induced asthma, cough-variant asthma, exercise-induced asthma, night-time asthma, steroid-resistant asthma and occupational asthma.
All you want to know about allergic asthma
"Allergic asthma is a well-known entity where the airways constricts when we are exposed to allergens present in the air. Allergens are also called triggers because they trigger or initiate asthma. This happens because immune system produces increased number of immunoglobulins particularly IgE in response to exposure to allergens and this causes airways to constrict and difficult to breathe," says Dr Vikas Maurya, Director & Head, Dept. of Pulmonology & Sleep Disorders, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh.
Allergic asthma triggers
Allergic asthma is the predominant variety of asthma in India and throughout the world and also among children.
"Allergens can be present anywhere, indoor or outdoor. Common allergens that can trigger allergic asthma include dander (cat, dogs etc), pollens (commonly grass, weeds), mold, dust mites, pests like cockroaches, or infrequently food items. Some people also suffer from seasonal flare-up of asthma. This is usually seen in spring season because of the pollination of many plants resulting in increased pollens and also during winter season particularly in India as we have more pollution and thus more allergens in air," says Dr Maurya.
Symptoms of allergic asthma
"Apart from the above-mentioned symptoms, people generally also have allergic symptoms of other organs, like blocked nose or rhinorrhoea, recurrent sneezing, nasal irritation, itchy or running eyes, rash and hives. In fact, nasal allergy called as allergic rhinitis is commonly seen in patients with allergic asthma and this has been supported in many studies as well," adds Dr Maurya.
"Exercise-induced asthma is used to describe episodic bronchoconstriction following exercise.
Exercise is not an independent risk factor for asthma, but a trigger of bronchoconstriction in patients with underlying asthma. Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) refers to the episodic bronchoconstriction that follows exercise in many asthmatic patients. The term EIB reflects the view that exercise is a trigger of bronchoconstriction in patients with underlying asthma," says Dr Pujan Parikh, Consultant -Pulmonary Medicine, Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital and Research Centre.
The prevalence of EIB is higher among elite athletes. Prevalence varies from 5 to 20 percent in the general population. In comparison, up to 90 percent of patients with symptomatic asthma have some degree of EIB.
"Improving cardiovascular fitness reduces the minute ventilation required for a given level of exercise, thereby reducing chance of bronchoconstriction. Patients should be instructed to breathe through a loosely fitting scarf or mask when exercising in cold, dry conditions. The most important strategy is to improve overall asthma control. All patients with EIB should have access to inhaled Bronchodilator medicine. Ensure that patients know when and how to use inhaler correctly can greatly enhance the efficacy of pharmacologic measures. Use of inhaler before exercise is also advised," adds Dr Parikh.
How to prevent asthma attacks
Dr Kulkarni also suggests preventive measures to avoid asthma attacks:
1. Take your medication as prescribed: Asthma medication can help control inflammation and open airways, making it easier to breathe. It is important to take your medication as prescribed, even if you feel better. Skipping medication can lead to worsening of symptoms and an increased risk of an asthma attack. Many asthma patients are on regular asthma inhalers as a measure to prevent acute attacks. The patient’s doctor could also help with the ways of using the inhalers. Keeping these inhalers handy could avoid a severe attack.
2. Avoid triggers: Asthma triggers can vary from person to person, but common triggers include pollen, dust mites, smoke, and certain intense exercises. Currently, with the advent of smartphones, gauging the AQI of any city or place can help us gauge the situation before we travel to certain centres. In case the AQI is higher than 101, it is a red zone for Asthma Patients. Even the range of 50-100 could exacerbate the condition. Therefore, a quick check on AQI levels in the residing city/or visiting place could prepare the patient for the remedies.
3. Monitor your breathing: Keeping track of your breathing can help you recognise when symptoms are worsening. You can use portable devices like the peak flow meter to measure how much air you can exhale in one breath.
4. Create an asthma action plan: An asthma action plan outlines what steps to take in case of an asthma attack or worsening symptoms. It includes information on medication, triggers to avoid, and emergency contact information. You can work with your healthcare provider to develop an asthma action plan that is prepared according to your specific needs.
5. Get regular check-ups: Regular check-ups with your healthcare provider can help you stay on top of your asthma management. They can monitor your symptoms, adjust your medication as needed, and provide guidance on preventive measures.