Asthma is a lung disease that affects approximately ten million people in the United States. (Cramer 2) In people with asthma, the airways of the lungs are hypersensitive to irritants such as cigarette smoke or allergens. When these irritants are inhaled, the airways react by constricting, or narrowing. Some people with asthma have only mild, intermittent symptoms that can be controlled without drugs. In others, the symptoms are chronic, severe, and sometime life threatening. Although researchers have learned more about the underlying causes of asthma in recent years, a definitive treatment is still unavailable. In the last decade, asthma deaths worldwide have rose 42%. (Cramer 2) The reasons for this increase are not clear; however, many experts believe that the lack of standard treatments and the inconsistent monitoring of asthma patients have contributed to the increased mortality rate. With this disease comes many questions such as what is asthma, what are the symptoms and causes, how is it diagnosis, what are the treatments, how is it prevented and maintained. In answering these typical questions people will be more informed of a disease that is killing people.
Asthma is sometimes referred to as a disease of “twitchy lungs”, which means that the airways are extremely sensitive to irritants. The airways are the tubes that bring air from the windpipe, known as the trachea, to the lungs. These tubes are called the bronchi. Each bronchus, in turn, branches into smaller tubes called bronchioles. At the end of the bronchioles are small, balloon like structures called alveoli. The alveoli are tiny sacs that allow oxygen to diffuse from body tissues into the lungs to be exhaled. (Shier, Butler, Lewis 786-88)
During an asthma attack, the bronchi and bronchioles constrict and obstruct the passage of air into the alveoli. Besides constricting, the airways may secrete copious amounts of mucus in an effort to clear the irritation from the lungs. The airway walls also swell, causing inflammation and further obstruction. As the airways become increasingly obstructed, oxygen cannot reach the small air sacs; blood levels of oxygen drop, and the body’s tissues and organs become oxygen deprived. At the same time carbon dioxide cannot escape the small air sacs for exhalation; blood levels of carbon dioxide increase, and exert a toxic effect on the tissues and organs of the body.
Most of the time asthma is caused by, inhaling an allergen that sets off a chain of reactions. “Once asthma is present, symptoms can be set off or made worse if the patient also has rhinitis (inflammation of the lining of the nose) or sinusitis.” (Cramer 3) Acid reflux for some reason can also make asthma worse. A viral infection of the respiratory tract, aspirin, and a drug called beta-blockers (often used to treat high blood pressure) can also inflame an asthmatic reaction. (Cramer 3)
In addition to cigarette smoke and various allergens, other triggers can cause asthma...