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Health WatchManaging Asthma.

Name Asthma is an inflammatory disorder of the airways which causes attacks of wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing. The first attacks of asthma usually occur in childhood, although it is not uncommon that it affects adults who have never before had respiratory problems. Asthma in children can be triggered by a cold. Recent studies indicate that children born from smoking parents and who have received lengthy treatment with antibiotics during their first year of life are more likely to have asthma. Causes Asthma is caused by inflammation in the airways. When an asthma attack occurs, the muscles surrounding the airways become tight and the lining of the air passages swell. This reduces the amount of air that can pass through and can lead to wheezing sounds. Most people with asthma have wheezing attacks separated by symptom-free periods. Some patients have long-term shortness of breath with episodes of even more increased shortness of breath. In others, a cough may be the main symptom. Asthma attacks can last minutes to days and can become dangerous if the airflow becomes severely restricted. Among sensitive individuals, asthma symptoms can be triggered by breathing in allergy-causing substances (allergens or triggers). Common asthma triggers include pet hair or dander, dust, changes in weather, chemicals in the air or in food, exercise, mold, pollen, respiratory infections such as the common cold, strong emotions, tobacco smoke, aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs etc. Sometimes the triggers can also stem from the kitchen area, such as smoke from burned food and gas from stoves. Many people with asthma also have an individual or family history of allergies, such as hay fever (allergic rhinitis) or eczema. Others have no such history of allergies. Exams and tests Allergy testing may be helpful in identifying allergens in people with persistent asthma. Such tests may include arterial blood gas analysis, blood tests to measure eosinophil count (a type of white blood cell caused by such allergic conditions as asthma), Immunoglobulin E (IgE) levels (a type of antibody that may increase when exposed to asthmatic triggers), chest x-ray, lung function tests, peak flow measurements (discussed below). Symptoms Breathlessness, coughing with or without sputum (a mixture of saliva and mucus coughed up from the reparatory tract), wheezing, a rapid pulse, sweating and occasional severe drowsiness or confusion and blu-ish color to the lips and face are all common symptoms. There can also be abnormal breathing patterns, chest pains, nasal flaring and the temporary suspension of breathing, all of which are serious symptoms. Treatment The goal of treatment is to avoid contact with the substances that trigger the symptoms and to control airway inflammation, for which there are two basic kinds of medication: Long-acting medications to prevent further attacks Quick-relief medications for use during attacks Long-term control medications are used on a regular basis to prevent attacks, not to treat them. Quick relief, or rescue medications mainly come in the form of short-acting bronchodilators (inhalers) such as Proventil, Ventolin, Xopenex and corticosteroids such as methylprednisolone. People with mild asthma (infrequent attacks) may use quick relief medication as required. Those with persistent asthma should take longer-term control medications on a regular basis to prevent symptoms. A severe asthma attack requires a check up by a doctor and, possibly, a hospital stay, oxygen, and medications through intravenous therapy (IV). A peak flow meter is a simple device to measure how quickly one is able to breath air in out of your lungs. It can help you see if an attack is coming, sometimes even before any symptoms appear, and also when medication is needed or other action needs to be taken. Peak flow values of 50-80% of an individual's best results are a sign of a moderate asthma attack, while values below 50% are a sign of a severe attack. The peak flow meter is a boon to asthmatics and is not expensive. If any of the following symptoms occur, the patient must be rushed to the hospital immediately: An asthma attack that requires more medication than has been recommended to them Symptoms that are getting worse or that have not improved with treatment Shortness of breath while talking treatment Increased drowsiness or confusion A severe shortness of breath while at rest A peak flow measurement less than 50% Severe chest pain If you are an asthmatic, always carry an asthma inhaler with you wherever you go, try to remain calm and control your breathing as much as possible until it slows down. Do not lie down or sit with your hands on your knees for extra support as this restricts airflow. If symptoms do not improve within five minutes, visit your doctor. Complications The complications of asthma can be severe. Among them include a decreased ability to exercise and take part in other such necessary activities. It can also result in insomnia due to symptoms occurring during the night. Asthma can also cause permanent changes to the functioning of the lungs which results in persistent and serious coughing and breathing difficulties that require breathing assistance through a ventilator in order to avoid the worst possible scenario of death. Prevention Asthma symptoms can be substantially reduced by avoiding known triggers and substances that irritate the airways. Removing carpets from bedrooms and regular vacuuming is also helpful. Detergents and cleaning materials used in the home should be unscented and asthmatics should also avoid perfumes and bakhoor. Keeping humidity levels low and fixing water leaks can reduce growth of organisms such as mold. Keeping the house clean and food in containers and out of bedrooms also help. This reduces the possibility of cockroaches entering the house, which can trigger asthma attacks in some. Many people in Yemen keep cattle and also have cats as pets in their houses. If an asthma sufferer is allergic to a certain animal that cannot be removed from the home then the animal should be kept out of the individual's bedroom. Filtering material can also be placed over heating outlets to trap animal dander. Eliminating tobacco smoke from the home is the single most important thing that a family can do to help a child with asthma. Smoking outside the house is also not enough. Family members and visitors who smoke outside carry smoke residue inside the house on their clothes and hair and this can trigger symptoms of asthma. People with asthma should also avoid air pollution, dust, and other irritating fumes as much as possible. Also, make sure that you have proper ventilation in your home and office. There is no cure for asthma, although symptoms sometimes improve over time. However, with proper self-management and medical treatment, most people with asthma can lead normal lives.

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Publication:Yemen Times (Sana'a, Yemen)
Date:Jan 13, 2011
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