What is asthma?
Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways to the lungs. It makes breathing difficult and can make some physical activities challenging or even impossible.
To understand asthma, it’s necessary to understand a little about what happens when you breathe. Normally, with every breath you take, air goes through your nose or mouth, down into your throat, and into your airways, eventually making it to your lungs.
There are lots of small air passages in your lungs that help deliver oxygen from the air into your bloodstream.
Asthma symptoms occur when the lining of your airways swells and the muscles around them tighten. Mucus then fills the airways, further reducing the amount of air that can pass through.
These conditions can then bring on an asthma “attack,” which is the coughing and tightness in the chest that’s typical of asthma.
The most common symptom of asthma is wheezing. This is a squealing or whistling sound that occurs when you breathe.
Other asthma symptoms may include:
coughing, especially at night, when laughing, or during exercise
tightness in the chest
shortness of breath
anxiousness or panic
The type of asthma that you have can determine which symptoms you experience.
Causes and triggers
Although asthma is especially common in children, many people don’t develop asthma until they are adults.
Genetics. If a parent or sibling has asthma, you’re more likely to develop it.
Hygiene hypothesis. This theory explains that when babies aren’t exposed to enough bacteria in their early months and years, their immune systems don’t become strong enough to fight off asthma and other allergic conditions.
Many factors can also trigger asthma and cause symptoms to worsen. Triggers for asthma can vary and some people may be more sensitive to certain triggers than others.
The most common triggers include:
health conditions, such as respiratory infections
extreme weather conditions
certain medications, including aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Avoiding triggers. Steer clear of chemicals, smells, or products that have caused breathing problems in the past.
Reducing exposure to allergens. If you’ve identified allergens, such as dust or mold, that trigger an asthma attack, avoid them if possible.
Getting allergy shots. Allergen immunotherapy is a type of treatment that may help alter your immune system. With routine shots, your body may become less sensitive to any triggers you encounter.
Taking preventive medication. Your doctor may prescribe medication for you to take on a daily basis. This medication may be used in addition to the one you use in case of an emergency.
Quitting smoking, if you smoke. Irritants such as cigarette smoke can trigger asthma and increase your risk for COPD.
Managing stress. Stress can be a trigger for asthma symptoms. Stress can also make stopping an asthma attack more difficult.
Difference between asthma attack and panic attack
Both asthma and panic attacks can cause breathing difficulties and a tight feeling in your chest.
Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish between an asthma attack and a panic attack because they have similar symptoms.
But these are two different conditions that require separate considerations for management and treatment.
Here’s a breakdown of their general differences:
|Asthma attack||Panic attack|
|Breathing difficulties||Chest constriction reduces oxygen intake.||Shallow, rapid breathing increases oxygen flow.|
|Physical symptoms||Inflammation and constriction of the airways can cause wheezing and coughing.||Attacks do not constrict the airways but can cause rapid heart rate, dizziness, and muscle cramps.|
|Psychological impact||Can cause immediate stress and anxiety over new attacks.||Attacks can cause sudden, intense fear. Panic disorder can also cause anxiety and stress between attacks.|
• extreme temperatures
• chronic disorders
• medication side effects
• external stressors
• life changes
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