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What Happens To The Alveoli During An Asthma Attack

What Are The Complications Of Asthma


Asthma can result in many complications if left untreated. From a medical point of view, patients with asthma have a higher chance of developing respiratory failure. It can be potentially fatal.

Moreover, a closed airway with excess mucus is the perfect environment for bacteria to grow. This is why asthma patients are very likely to develop pneumonia and other respiratory infections.

In the long term, asthma can cause a remodeling of the airway. This is basically a change in the structure of the airways due to chronic inflammation that results from chronic asthma. This remodeling can lead to loss of lung function, chronic coughing, and thicker airway walls. Also, asthma patients are more likely to need hospitalization to get treatment and oxygen supply. Finally, patients can experience unpleasant side effects from their asthma medications.;

From a lifestyle point of view, having asthma can affect the patients life. For adults, asthma is the reason for frequent sick days from work and increased risk of depression. For children, asthma can mean having growth delay and a higher risk for learning disabilities.;

What Happens To The Lungs In Asthma

Asthma is a condition in which the airways of the lungs become either narrowed or completely blocked, obstructing normal breathing. This obstruction of the lungs, however, is reversible, either spontaneously or with medication . That is why asthma is technically called Reversible Obstructive Airway Disease . The basic abnormality causing asthma is the hyper responsive reaction of the body to specific and non-specific stimuli.

Air reaches the lung through the windpipe , which divides into two large tubes , one for each lung. Each bronchi further divides into many little tubes , which eventually lead to tiny air sacs , in which oxygen from the air is transferred to the bloodstream, and carbon dioxide from the bloodstream is transferred to the air.

Although the airways normally have the potential for constricting in response to allergens or irritants, the asthmatics airways are more prone to constriction due to increased response to allergens. This insult makes the airways more prone to infection leading to inflammation and swelling causing further constriction of the pipes. Infection also causes increased mucus production and this clogs the narrowed airways.

Once the airways have become obstructed, it takes more effort to force air through them and breathing becomes labored. This forcing of air through constricted airways can make a whistling sound, called wheezing. Irritation of the airways by excessive mucus may also provoke coughing.

How Many People Can It Affect

Asthma is a prevalent condition worldwide.;According to the World Health Organization, it affects approximately 300 million people and kills 250,000 annually throughout the world; likewise, the United States affects nearly 7,5% of the population. It happens to be the most common chronic condition in childhood affecting 7 million US children.

In fact, due to the significant burden of this condition on the healthcare system, economy, and the overall society.;A global initiative for asthma is in charge of widespread education about it;for better management and diminishing its complications.

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Untreated Asthma Leads To Avoidable Suffering

If asthma is so treatable, why do 5,000 people in the U.S. die from it every year? Why are 70,000 people hospitalized for asthma every year?

The simple answer is that while good asthma treatments are available, many people aren’t using them. Not taking your medicine can have serious consequences. “We think that poor or irregular asthma treatment puts people at greater risk of more serious or irreversible damage,” says Windom.

Part of the fault lies with doctors, Windom tells WebMD. He says that many doctors don’t monitor their asthma patients well enough. Too often, he says, they treat the condition based only on the patient’s impression of their health, which is often incorrect. He believes that doctors should pay more attention to objective analyses, like breathing tests with peak flow meters.

“Going by a patient’s impression — instead of getting objective measures — would never be accepted for treating other chronic conditions, like diabetes,” Windom says.

But a large part of the problem is that people with asthma are not following their doctor’s recommendations. Many only treat the flare-ups of asthma and don’t think of it as a chronic disease.

“We have data that shows that people tend to use their long-term asthma treatment for two to three months at a time,” says Windom. “But by then they feel better, and they never get the prescription refilled. The pharmacy records show it.”

Symptoms Of An Asthma Attack


Asthma attacks occur most often in the early morning hours when the effects of protective drugs wear off and the body is least able to prevent airway narrowing.

An asthma attack may begin suddenly with wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. At other times, an asthma attack may come on slowly with gradually worsening symptoms. In either case, people with asthma usually first notice shortness of breath, coughing, or chest tightness. The attack may be over in minutes, or it may last for hours or days. Itching on the chest or neck may be an early symptom, especially in children. A dry cough at night or while exercising may be the only symptom.

During an asthma attack, shortness of breath may become severe, creating a feeling of severe anxiety. The person instinctively sits upright and leans forward, using the muscles in the neck and chest to help in breathing, but still struggles for air. Sweating is a common reaction to the effort and anxiety. The heart rate usually quickens, and the person may feel a pounding in the chest.

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Asthma: A Surprisingly Silent Disease

Asthma is known for its obvious and noisy symptoms: wheezing, gasping, and coughing. But experts say that the typical impression of asthma is not always correct.

“Asthma can sometimes be a silent disease,” says Bernstein. “People can walk around with very serious asthma, with significant blockages of their airways, and not show any symptoms.”

Windom agrees. “The severity of asthma symptoms really may not reflect the severity of the underlying disease,” he says. Even if you feel fine, your asthma may still be damaging your airways — and you may be closer to a serious attack than you realize.

Even if you do have symptoms, you may not have an accurate impression of how much they affect you.

“There’s no question that people with asthma tend to think they have much better control over their condition than they actually do,” Edelman tells WebMD.

In a 2005 poll of over 4,500 adults with asthma in the U.S. sponsored by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation, 88% said that their condition was “under control.” But experts question their optimistic judgment. About 48% said that their symptoms disturbed their sleep. And 50% said that asthma has made them give up in the middle of a workout. Those are severe symptoms for people who supposedly have their condition “under control.”

While many adults have trouble assessing their own asthma, it’s a special problem for children. They may not remember life without symptoms.

Personal Asthma Action Plan

As part of your initial assessment, you should be encouraged to draw up a personal asthma action plan with your GP or asthma nurse.

If you’ve been admitted to hospital because of an asthma attack, you should be offered an action plan before you go home.

The action plan should include information about your asthma medicines, and will help you recognise when your symptoms are getting worse and what steps to take. You should also be given information about what to do if you have an asthma attack.

Your personal asthma action plan should be reviewed with your GP or asthma nurse at least once a year, or more frequently if your symptoms are severe.

As part of your asthma plan, you may be given a peak flow meter. This will give you another way of monitoring your asthma, rather than relying only on symptoms, so you can recognise deterioration earlier and take appropriate steps.

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Who Is More Likely To Develop This Condition

Many risk factors can make you more likely to develop it. The most important risk factors include:;

  • Gender: In small children, boys are more likely to develop asthma than girls. Then, this proportion changes in the adult years, and women are more likely than men to develop asthma.;
  • Family history of asthma: In this condition, the genetic factor has a lot of weight on your chances of getting it. A person who has a parent with asthma has three to six times more chance of having it. In fact, more than half of the patients with asthma have at least one parent who suffers from this disease.;
  • History of allergic reactions: Or, as doctors call it, atopy is a major risk factor. If you suffer from other allergic conditions like rhinitis, conjunctivitis, or dermatitis , you are more likely to have this disease. This happens because of a higher sensibility to allergens, and it is known as allergic asthma.;
  • Obesity: Many significant studies show that obese adults and children have a higher chance of suffering from this condition.;
  • Environmental factors: People who are constantly exposed to air pollution, cigarette smoke, mold, or toxic fumes have a higher chance of asthma. The same happens to people who live in very cold or humid places. All these allergens can make you develop this disease in the long term.;

Identifying Asthma Triggers With Allergy Testing

What happens in the lungs when an asthma attack occurs? (3D animation)

Determining what triggers a persons asthma is often difficult.

Allergy testing is appropriate when there is a suspicion that some avoidable substance is provoking attacks. Skin testing can help identify allergens that may trigger asthma symptoms. However, an allergic response to a skin test does not necessarily mean that the allergen being tested is causing the asthma. The person still has to note whether attacks occur after exposure to this allergen. If doctors suspect a particular allergen, a blood test that measures the level of antibody produced in response to the allergen can be done to determine the degree of the person’s sensitivity to the allergen.

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Monitoring Asthma At Home

Some people use a handheld peak flow meter to evaluate their breathing and determine when they need intervention, before their symptoms become severe. People who experience frequent, severe asthma attacks should know how to reach help quickly.

Peak expiratory flow can be measured using a small handheld device called a peak flow meter. This test can be used at home to monitor the severity of asthma. Usually, peak flow rates are lowest between 4 AM and 6 AM and highest at 4 PM. However, more than a 30% difference in rates at these times is considered evidence of moderate to severe asthma. People with moderate to severe asthma, particularly those who need daily treatment to control symptoms, often use a peak flow meter to take measurements and compare them to their personal best to help identify signs of worsening asthma or the onset of an asthma attack.

All people with asthma should have a written treatment action plan that was devised in collaboration with their doctor. Such a plan allows them to take control of their own treatment and has been shown to decrease the number of times people need to seek care for asthma in the emergency department.

How Can People With Asthma Reduce Their Risk Of Hospitalization During Times Of Poor Air Quality

Controlling your asthma is the best way to lower your risk of needing hospital care. You can accomplish this through good asthma management.

Develop a written asthma action plan in partnership with your doctor and healthcare team. An asthma action plan includes information on:

  • how to identify your symptoms
  • when or how to take medications
  • how to identify your asthma triggers
  • ways to avoid those triggers

In general, if its a bad air quality day, its important to stay indoors and minimize the amount of outdoor air that enters your home.

Prevention is key, so make sure to take your medications as prescribed by your doctor every day.

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What Are The Typical Symptoms Of A Severe Attack Of Asthma

First, well mention what the typical symptoms of an asthma attack are. These symptoms can go from mild to severe, depending on the patient. Also, your symptoms can progress and become more powerful or more frequent over time. The most common asthma symptoms include:;

  • Coughing: More common at night due to temperature change. Asthma cough commonly comes with sputum as a result of increased mucus in the airway.;
  • Wheezing: A high-pitched whistling sound that appears when you breathe. Occurs because of the passing of air through a closed airway.;
  • Chest tightness or pressure: Resulting from the contraction of bronchi muscle and extra effort to breath.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Feeling tired or even weak: Especially while exercising.;
  • Alterations in lung function: Only can be measured with a peak flow meter.
  • Difficulty sleeping or nocturnal asthma.
  • Other respiratory symptoms: Like runny nose and sore throat, indicating a possible viral infection.

Now, you start to imagine what a severe asthma attack can look like. During a severe attack, asthma patients can experience:;

  • Severe wheezing.
  • Very rapid breathing and difficulty to do so.
  • Chest pain or pressure.
  • Use of accessory muscles: Showing as tightened neck and chest muscles.;
  • Blue lips or nails.

What Is Good Asthma Care

Asthma Attack in Children: Causes, Early Warning Signs ...

Your doctor or nurse will tailor your asthma treatment to your symptoms. Sometimes you may need to be on higher levels of medication than at others.

You should be offered:

  • care at your GP surgery provided by doctors and nurses trained in asthma management
  • full information about your condition and how to control it
  • involvement in making decisions about your treatment
  • regular checks to ensure your asthma is under control and your treatment is right for you
  • a written personal asthma action plan agreed with your doctor or nurse

It is also important that your GP or pharmacist teaches you how to properly use your inhaler, as this is an important part of good asthma care.

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How Smoking Affects The Alveoli

Smoking is an important risk factor for lung disease. Tobacco smoke affects the respiratory tract at every level. This includes the alveoli.

Cigarette smoke affects how the alveoli work. Smoke causes damage down to the molecular level. It disrupts your body’s ability to repair itself after an infection or trauma. If exposure to smoke continues, alveolar damage continues to worsen.

Does Asthma Shorten Your Life

Actually, we have good news for you. Multiple studies have shown that asthma patients have the same life expectancy as any other person. Of course, this can only occur with the proper treatment and life changes to avoid asthma attacks and complications. So, we really encourage you to seek medical help if you think you have asthma. This way, you can start controlling the disease and prevent future inconveniences.;

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What Does Asthma Feel Like

Asthma is marked by inflammation of the bronchial tubes, with extra sticky secretions inside the tubes. People with asthma have symptoms when the airways tighten, inflame, or fill with mucus.

There are three major signs of asthma:

  • Airway blockage. When you breathe as usual, the bands of muscle around your airways are relaxed, and air moves freely. But when you have asthma, the muscles tighten. It√Ęs harder for air to pass through.
  • Inflammation. Asthma causes red, swollen bronchial tubes in your lungs. This inflammation can damage your lungs. Treating this is key to managing asthma in the long run.
  • Airway irritability. People with asthma have sensitive airways that tend to overreact and narrow when they come into contact with even slight triggers.

These problems may cause symptoms such as:

Not every person with asthma has the same symptoms in the same way. You may not have all of these symptoms, or you may have different symptoms at different times. Your symptoms may also vary from one asthma attack to the next, being mild during one and severe during another.

Some people with asthma may go for long periods without having any symptoms. Others might have problems every day. In addition, some people may have asthma only during exercise or with viral infections like colds.

When to see your doctor

What The Alveoli Do

Patient Journey: What Happens in Your Lungs During an Asthma Attack (360 Video)

Alveoli are the endpoint of the respiratory system. The respiratory process starts when you inhale air into your mouth or nose. The air travels down the trachea, also called the windpipe. Then the air travels through airways called the bronchi and into the lungs.

From there, the air is directed through smaller and smaller passages, called bronchioles. The air moves through a tiny duct called the alveolar duct and finally enters an individual alveolus.

Alveoli are lined by a fluid called surfactant. This fluid maintains the shape of the air sac and helps keep it open so that oxygen and CO2 can pass.

At this point, the oxygen molecules move through a single layer of lung cells in the alveolus, then through a single cell layer in a capillary to enter the bloodstream.

CO2 is a byproduct of the process in cells that uses oxygen to produce energy. As oxygen moves out of the alveolus, CO2 molecules pass into it. They are then breathed out of the body through the nose or mouth.

Oxygen can pass from the alveoli to the capillaries because the concentration of oxygen is lower in the capillaries than in alveoli.

Similarly, CO2 moves the other way because the concentration of carbon dioxide is lower in the alveoli than in the capillaries.

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