Asthma: How Does It Affect The Body
Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition causing a combination of variable respiratory symptoms which may include but are not limited to wheezing, shortness of breath, cough and excessive variation in lung function .
People with asthma have hypersensitivity to triggers that may set off symptoms. Triggers commonly include cigarette smoke, pollen, exercise and dust mites .
People may experience flare-ups when symptoms start or worsen. These require treatment and may become serious medical events .
Some individuals may only experience symptoms when exposed to a trigger, but others may experience symptoms all of the time .
Asthma is considered a spectrum of conditions with several recognised phenotypes that vary in severity .
It is estimated to affect 1 in 10 adults and 1 in 9 children in Australia, causing about 400 deaths annually. Over 2.7 million Australians have asthma, including children and adults .
Although it cannot be cured, if managed properly, those with asthma should be able to enjoy unhindered lives .
The Role Of Treatments
Itâs important to know why medications for high blood pressure and asthma donât always work together. If you know what you and your doctor should avoid, it can help you feel better.
Some drugs used to lower high blood pressure can make asthma symptoms flare up.
Beta blockers lower your blood pressure because they cause your heart to beat slower and with less force. They also open your arteries and veins to help your blood flow.
Beta blockers can make asthma worse. If not used properly, they can cause problems in your airways and make your asthma treatments less effective.
Medicines this can happen with include:
Having An Asthma Action Plan
You and your doctor will also put together an asthma action plan. This is a personalised set of instructions that includes a list of your usual asthma medications and doses, guidance on what to do in different situations , and your doctors contact details.
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Can You Prevent Asthma
You need to know hoGw to prevent or minimize future asthma attacks.
- If your asthma attacks are triggered by an allergic reaction, avoid your triggers as much as possible.
- Keep taking your asthma medicines after you are discharged. This is extremely important. Although the symptoms of an acute asthma attack go away after appropriate treatment, asthma itself never goes away.
What To Do During An Asthma Attack Or Flare
An asthma attack can come on gradually or quite quickly .The symptoms to look out for include:
- Increasing wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and coughing.
- Needing to use a reliever again within three hours of last taking it.
- Waking often at night with asthma symptoms.
An asthma attack can become life threatening if not treated properly, even in someone whose asthma is usually mild or well controlled.
If someone is getting an asthma attack, follow the instructions in their asthma action plan. If they dont have an action plan or you arent sure what to do, follow the four steps of asthma first aid.
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Medical History And Physical Exam
Your doctor will ask about your risk factors for asthma and your . They may ask also about any known allergies. This includes how often symptoms occur, what seems to trigger your symptoms, when or where symptoms occur, and if your symptoms wake you up at night.
During the physical exam, your doctor may:
- Listen to your breathing and look for of asthma
- Look for allergic skin conditions, such as eczema
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Asthma
People with asthma usually have obvious symptoms. These signs and symptoms resemble many respiratory infections:
- Chest tightness, pain or pressure.
With asthma, you may not have all of these symptoms with every flare. You can have different symptoms and signs at different times with chronic asthma. Also, symptoms can change between asthma attacks.
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How Long Asthma Lasts For
Asthma is a long-term condition for many people, particularly if it first develops when youre an adult.
In children, it sometimes goes away or improves during the teenage years, but can come back later in life.
The symptoms can usually be controlled with treatment. Most people will have normal, active lives, although some people with more severe asthma may have ongoing problems.
Physical Symptoms Of Asthma
Asthma symptoms and severity vary substantially from person to person. Most people with asthma do not have symptoms constantly. Bothersome asthma symptoms can mean that asthma is not controlled sufficiently or that an acute asthma episode may be starting. Common asthma symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Awakening in the night from coughing or wheezing
If you do not have asthma, you can help yourself imagine what it feels like to have an asthma episode:
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Increased Risk Of Infection
With all types of asthma, exposure to irritants inflames your airway tissues, causing an asthma attack. It’s your body’s way of protecting the tissue, but it restricts air passage in and out of the lungs and makes breathing difficult. Chest tightness and wheezing are signs of inflammation.
Inhaled corticosteroids are often used to control inflammation in asthma. However, continual inflammation can increase the risk of lung infections because it allows infectious material to become trapped in the lungs.
Reducing The Burden Of Asthma
Asthma cannot be cured, but good management with inhaled medications can control the disease and enable people with asthma to enjoy a normal, active life.
There are two main types of inhaler:
- bronchodilators , that open the air passages and relieve symptoms and
- steroids , that reduce inflammation in the air passages. This improves asthma symptoms and reduces the risk of severe asthma attacks and death.
People with asthma may need to use their inhaler every day. Their treatment will depend on the frequency of symptoms and the different types of inhalers available.
It can be difficult to coordinate breathing using an inhaler especially for children and during emergency situations. Using a spacer device makes it easier to use an aerosol inhaler and helps the medicine to reach the lungs more effectively. A spacer is a plastic container with a mouthpiece or mask at one end, and a hole for the inhaler in the other. A homemade spacer, made from a 500-ml plastic bottle, can be as effective as a commercially-manufactured inhaler.
Access to inhalers is a problem in many countries. In 2019, only half of people with asthma had access to a bronchodilator and less than one in five had access to a steroid inhaler in public primary health-care facilities in low-income countries .
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How The Treatment Goals Are Attained
Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet for asthma. While treatment can control symptoms safely and effectively for most patients most of the time, it is not a simple matter of the doctor writing a prescription and the patient taking the medication. Successful treatment of asthma is likely to require several steps on the part of physician. These include:
- Confirmation of the diagnosis
- Characterization of the asthma with regard to:
- Identification of the components of airway obstruction
The diagnosis of asthma is suspected when a patient has a history of recurrent or chronic shortness of breath, labored breathing, or cough in the absence of any other obvious reason. The diagnosis is confirmed by obtaining evidence that there is airway obstruction that reverses either spontaneously or as a result of treatment with anti-asthmatic measures. The procedures used to make the diagnosis include a careful history, measurement of pulmonary function , and therapeutic trials of medication.
Triggers of asthma, those identifiable factors that commonly worsen symptoms include:
- Viral respiratory infections
Patients with an intermittent pattern of asthma require only intervention measures.
The Cell Biology Of Asthma
- Abbreviations used in this paper:
Rho-associated coiled-coil containing protein kinase
SAM-pointed domaincontaining Ets-like factor
signal transducer and activator of transcription 6
J Cell Biol
David J. Erle, Dean Sheppard The cell biology of asthma. J Cell Biol 9 June 2014 205 : 621631. doi:
The clinical manifestations of asthma are caused by obstruction of the conducting airways of the lung. Two airway cell types are critical for asthma pathogenesis: epithelial cells and smooth muscle cells. Airway epithelial cells, which are the first line of defense against inhaled pathogens and particles, initiate airway inflammation and produce mucus, an important contributor to airway obstruction. The other main cause of airway obstruction is contraction of airway smooth muscle. Complementary experimental approaches involving cultured cells, animal models, and human clinical studies have provided many insights into diverse mechanisms that contribute to airway epithelial and smooth muscle cell pathology in this complex disease.
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Evaluating An Asthma Attack
Because people who are having a severe asthma attack commonly have low blood oxygen levels, doctors may check the level of oxygen by using a sensing monitor on a finger or ear . In severe attacks, doctors also need to measure levels of carbon dioxide in the blood, and this test typically requires obtaining a sample of blood from an artery or, occasionally, a vein. However, carbon dioxide levels can sometimes be monitored in the persons breath using a sensor placed in front of the nose or mouth.
Doctors may also check lung function, usually with a spirometer or with a peak flow meter. Usually, a chest x-ray is needed only when asthma attacks are severe, in order to rule out other serious conditions .
What Does Asthma Do To The Body
You already know that the muscles in your lungs tighten during an asthma episode. The bronchial tubes may become swollen or otherwise irritated. What else does asthma do to the body? Thats a great question.
According to American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, asthma causes a semi-permanent inflammation in the lungs airways. That means your airways are swollen and red. Theyre characterized as being in a hypersensitive state that can be irritated by any small trigger. Some of these triggers, outlined in Asthma Attacks: Triggers and Treatments, include pet dander, smoke, chemicals, dust, cold or warm weather, pollen, stress, and illness.
Unfortunately, its very normal for someone to be scared or fatigued after suffering an asthma attack. Even seconds of this frightening breathlessness can feel like hours, and your body needs time to recover from the shock of what happened.
Thats why you will have to take care of yourself in the days following an asthma attack. Your lungs are in a weakened state, which makes you more susceptible to a second or third attack. This risk is high over several days, so keep your asthma care a high priority.
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Global Alliance Against Chronic Respiratory Diseases
The Global Alliance against Chronic Respiratory Diseases contributes to WHOs work to prevent and control chronic respiratory diseases. GARD is a voluntary alliance of national and international organizations and agencies from many countries committed to the vision of a world where all people breathe freely.
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What Happens To The Airways In Asthma
In normal breathing, the airways to the lungs are completely open. Air moves freely in and out. But in someone who lives with asthma, these airways swell and become inflamed. As the airways grow irritated and sensitive, they start to react to various asthma triggers, which are things that you are exposed to every day.2
There are many triggers that can cause an asthma attack. Pollen, molds, pet dander, and dust mites all are triggers. A common cold can be a trigger, and so can stress or even changes in the weather. Many irritants in the air, such as cigarette smoke, wood fires, smog, and strong fumes or vapors from paint, gasoline, or perfumes, are also triggers.2,3
In an asthma attack, the linings of the bronchial tubes swell. Instead of the usual amount of mucus, the bronchioles produce an excessive amount of mucus. As they get clogged with mucus, the muscles around the bronchial tubes tighten.2
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What Should I Do If I Have A Severe Asthma Attack
A severe asthma attack needs immediate medical care. The first step is your rescue inhaler. A rescue inhaler uses fast-acting medicines to open up your airways. Its different than your normal maintenance inhaler, which you use every day. You should only use the rescue inhaler in an emergency.
If your rescue inhaler doesnt help or you dont have it with you, go to the emergency department if you have:
- Anxiety or panic.
- Bluish fingernails, bluish lips or gray or whitish lips or gums .
- Chest pain or pressure.
What Are The Symptoms
Asthma can be different for everyone. Asthma symptoms can also vary over time, with few or no symptoms when asthma is well controlled. The common signs and symptoms of poorly controlled asthma include:
- Shortness of breath
- Trouble sleeping because of breathing difficulty
- Being unable to take part in physical activities without breathing difficulty
These symptoms can occur slowly over hours or days, or they can come on as sudden, recurring attacks after which the symptoms can persist for some time before disappearing. If left untreated, asthma can cause permanent structural changes in your airways called airway remodelling, which is why it is important to get your asthma under control and keep treating it over the long term.
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Is All Asthma The Same
Asthma is quite variable. Symptoms can range from trivial and infrequent in some to severe, unrelenting, and dangerous in others. Even when severe, however, the airway obstruction is usually fully reversible, either spontaneously or as a result of treatment. This means that symptoms can be relieved, airway obstruction can be reversed, and pulmonary function can be made normal.
There are different patterns of asthma. Some people have only an intermittent pattern of disease. They have self-limited episodes of varying severity followed by extended symptom-free periods. The individual episodes are frequently triggered by viral respiratory infections . This is particularly common in young children in whom viral respiratory infections are frequent . Others have these intermittent symptomatic periods brought on by vigorous exertion, cold air, or specific environmental exposures. This pattern is intermittent asthma.
More prolonged periods of symptoms occur in people who have asthma from seasonal outdoor inhalant allergens. This may be from grass pollen on the West Coast or mold spores from molds that grow on decaying vegetation in the Midwest. Through a knowledge of the aerobiology in your area and allergy skin testing, your physician can attempt to identify whether the symptoms fit into this pattern of disease. This pattern is seasonal allergic asthma.
The Impact Of Asthma On Daily Life
Asthma is often under-diagnosed and under-treated, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.
People with under-treated asthma can suffer sleep disturbance, tiredness during the day, and poor concentration. Asthma sufferers and their families may miss school and work, with financial impact on the family and wider community. If symptoms are severe, people with asthma may need to receive emergency health care and they may be admitted to hospital for treatment and monitoring. In the most severe cases, asthma can lead to death.
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Research For Your Health
The NHLBI is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health the Nations biomedical research agency that makes important scientific discovery to improve health and save lives. We are committed to advancing science and translating discoveries into clinical practice to promote the prevention and treatment of heart, lung, blood, and sleep disorders, including asthma. Learn about the current and future NHLBI efforts to improve health through research and scientific discovery.
Medical Conditions In Adults
- This list is presented in alphabetical order and not in order of risk.
- CDC completed an evidence review process for each medical condition on this list to ensure they met criteria for inclusion on this webpage.
- We are learning more about COVID-19 every day, and this list may be updated as the science evolves.
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How Do My Airways React To Triggers
If you have asthma you have sensitive airways that are inflamed and ready to react when they come into contact with something they dont like.
If you come into contact with one of your asthma triggers it causes your airways to react in three ways:
These reactions in the airways make it difficult to breathe and lead to asthma symptoms, such as chest tightness, wheezing, or coughing. It can also lead to an asthma attack.
Breathing: Normal Airways Vs Asthma Airways
Normal: In someone with optimal lung function, air is inhaled through the nose and mouth, passing through the trachea before moving into the bronchi . The bronchi branch into smaller tubes, ending in many small sacs called alveoli. Its in the alveoli that oxygen is passed to the blood and carbon dioxide is removed.
Asthma: In someone with asthma, the airways are inflamed, and when triggered, can constrict even more, obstructing airflow to the lungs.
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