Medically Reviewed by Dr. Elisabeth Vincent Hamelin
What is Asthma?
Bronchial asthma is a chronic disease of the respiratory system, characterized by an altered response of the airways to numerous stimuli. It can be of allergic origin and, in this case, affects hypersensitive subjects to the inhalation of widespread substances (pollen, house dust, dandruff and animal hair) or, more rarely, from the ingestion of certain foods (milk and derivatives, seafood, eggs etc.). Allergic asthma almost always occurs in childhood and is often associated with other forms of allergy (eczema, hay fever). In adults, the asthmatic attack is most often caused by viral infections, inhalation of irritants, inhalation of cold air, physical exertion, emotional stress, taking certain drugs such as aspirin and other anti-inflammatory analgesics).
How it manifests itself
Asthma is characterized by recurrent episodes of wheezing, chest tightness and coughing. Sputum can be produced by the lungs by coughing, but it is often difficult to relieve. Usually the symptoms tend to worsen at night and early in the morning. Some asthmatics experience typical symptoms in response to certain causative factors, while others may persistently present them.
What are the risks
Asthma is a serious disease whose symptoms, if properly prevented and treated, do not prevent, in most cases, from leading a normal life. However, it is important not to underestimate even mild initial symptoms (to be reported promptly to the doctor) as there is a risk of establishing a greater sensitivity of the airways to stimuli that cause narrowing of the bronchi and therefore increase the frequency of critical episodes.
What should be done
It is important to associate some general measures with drug therapy:
- Keep the house clean by removing dust by giving up curtains, carpeting, duvet cushions, rugs and any other accessory that easily retains dust;
- do not keep pets;
- do not smoke or inhale other people’s smoke, keeping the rooms adequately ventilated; do not inhale irritating vapors;
- avoid strong physical and emotional stress;
- always ask your doctor for advice on flu vaccination (to be carried out towards the end of October-November of each year);
- in case of need for anti-inflammatory and pain medications, report to the pharmacist that you suffer from asthma keeping in mind that some of these drugs (such as the common aspirin) are to be avoided; preference should be given to paracetamol-based products;
- always keep at hand the medications recommended by the doctor to control sudden attacks;
- in most cases, those suffering from asthma can practice sports, preferring those that involve rhythmic and regular movements (e.g. swimming, rowing, cross-country skiing, light running) and excluding, in principle, those that require quick and sudden shots (football, tennis, basketball).
When to seek medical attention
- If you have to resort to higher doses of bronchodilator drugs to control asthma attacks. Decreased efficacy of therapy is the first sign of exacerbation of the disease.
- When attacks become more frequent or nocturnal awakenings with coughing and wheezing do not allow adequate rest.
- If the difficulty of expelling excess mucus increases.
- If you notice a decreased resistance to physical exertion with an increasingly frequent appearance of breathlessness.
- Sometimes you can use small instruments commonly on the market, easy to use, which measure the maximum rate of expulsion of air from the lungs; the doctor will be consulted for the adaptation of the therapy every time the comparison between the values found in subsequent measurements, to be carried out with precise methods, will show significant variations in the “PEF”.