Archive | March, 2012

Treating Asthma

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Understanding Asthma

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Asthma Symptoms

Asthma is one of the most known illnesses that are seen as chronic (meaning ongoing and usually livelong) without posing severe threat to life. Asthma is a respiratory – lung – based illness, effectively caused by inflammation of the linings of the tubes in the lungs. This, in turn, means the tubes (the medical term is the “bronchi” are narrowed, making it harder for sufferers to breathe comfortably.

Asthma tends to manifest itself in two different ways; a constant problem with occasional ‘flares’ – known as asthma attacks. The most common form of treatment is inhalation based medication, which is used every day to prevent the bronchi from narrowing and causing discomfort.

As asthma is a respiratory disease, asthma symptoms are all based around the lungs and breathing. The most common asthma symptom is shortness of breath for no apparent reason – particularly when the body is ‘at rest’, i.e. when you are sitting down and not being physically active. This is usually coupled with a feeling of tightness in the chest, which is a direct result of the aforementioned narrowing of the bronchi, which in turn restricts air flow.

This restricted air flow means that sufferers may also wheeze when suffering an attack; a very definite sound caused by poor breathing. Coughing is also prevalent amongst asthma sufferers, and is the most common asthma symptom outside of an attack; most sufferers will always be prone to coughing fits, due to the inflammation of the bronchi.

Diagnosing asthma is relatively simple, so if you have any of the above symptoms and are concerned, see your doctor.

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Types of Asthma Inhalers

Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that affects people of any age and is generally considered to be incurable but livable with. With correct monitoring and treatment, asthma is rarely a life-threatening illness – and even when it is, only a small percentage of sufferers have severe enough asthma to warrant special measures.

Understanding your asthma is the key to controlling it. Asthma should not dominate your life unless you have an especially severe case of the illness, and most sufferers continue with their usual lives with no issues whatsoever. When properly medicated, asthma is, for the vast majority, easily dealt with.

The key weapons in your arsenal against asthma are your inhalers. There are two particular types of inhalers that most asthma sufferers will need to use regularly, and they have two distinct functions:

“Preventative Inhalers”

Preventative inhalers are exactly as the name suggests, and are to be used as a prevention rather than a cure for asthma. They tend to be steroid-based, and are designed to prevent asthma attacks.

“Reliever Inhalers”

If the preventative inhaler has not been able to fully do its job, the reliever steps in. The reliever is the inhaler you need when you are suffering an attack, and is designed to combat the problem quickly and effectively.

Speak to your doctor to ensure you know which inhaler is which. Asthma sufferers are often prescribed both to be used in tandem, two to four times per day. You can also then use the reliever should you suffer an acute and unexpected attack. Getting familiar with your inhalers and which to use at certain times is an essential for any asthma sufferer, so don’t delay.

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Coping With Asthma

As anyone with asthma will know, worrying about suffering an asthma attack (medically known as an “acute exacerbation” of asthma) is something that prevails throughout life. When an attack hits, dealing with it effectively is an absolute essential. While the vast majority of the work will be done by your prescribed medication, there are things you can do to shorten and hopefully cease an attack:

– Remain Calm.

No one is disputing that asthma attacks – no matter how familiar they are – are frightening. It is a natural human instinct to want to be able to breathe, and when as asthma attack prevents this, we naturally panic. However, this can actually may an attack worse. A side effect of panic itself is shortness of breath – something that you don’t need when you’re already suffering an asthma attack! Try and keep calm throughout, wherever possible.

– Don’t Snatch For Breath.

As part of the panic response, we are inclined to ‘snatch’ for breath – that is, short and sharp breaths that do not actually meet our oxygen needs. As these breaths do not actually help an attack, all they can do is increase panic – and you don’t want that. Try breathing in for three seconds, and then out for three seconds, until you and in a regular pattern of breathing.

– Use Your Medication

That’s what it’s there for. As soon as you feel an attack coming on, reach for your inhalers or any other medical equipment you have to relieve an attack. Always keep your inhalers close by just in case you should suffer an attack unexpectedly.

If you, as a non-sufferer, have ever witnessed an asthma suffering enduring an asthma attack, you will know how terrifying an experience it can be. If you have never experienced an attack yourself, it is only natural for you to imagine the worst and panic. So, if you have a friend or family member who is prone to asthma attacks, read through this quick guide on to how best to help them when an attack sets in:

– Keep Calm.

This may sound obvious, but it is important. Asthma attacks are often distressing for the sufferer, and any anxiety or panic can actually make an attack worse. Therefore, if you are with someone when they suffer an attack, it is essential that you keep calm and don’t panic.

– Look For Their Inhalers.

Most asthmatics have the very tools they need to quell an attack close at hand: their inhalers. Asthmatics tend to keep these handy, so if you are going to the home of an asthmatic or going out in public with them, ask them where their inhalers are located – so you can grab them at short notice.

– Monitor The Situation

In rare instances, you may need to call for medical assistance if someone you know is suffering from an asthma attack. Call for emergency help if any of the following occur:

– Inhalers and other medications do not seem to be helping.

– The sufferer loses consciousness.

– The sufferer cannot use their medication and thus the attack is continuing for longer than it should.

Just be alert, aware and calm – and the vast majority of situations will need no outside help.

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How to Maintain an Asthma-Friendly Home

asthma friendly home
Asthma is an illness that is easily exacerbated, as sufferers are particularly sensitive to their environment. Major contributors to discomfort for asthma sufferers comes in the form of dust – a well known, researched and proven stimulant of asthma. However, dust is not the only substance that might be lurking in your home and making any asthma sufferers who enter miserable…

1. Mold

The vast majority of people will keep a clean house, but it is essential that if you do see mold – particularly mildew – building up around window frames or on ceilings, that you remove it. Mildew can make an asthma sufferer downright miserable as the particles of bacteria get in to the air and are subsequently breathed in to the lungs. Clean with tea-tree oil and warm water for a thorough result.

2. Cleaning Products

Any cleaning product that uses harsh chemicals is to be avoided if you’re looking to create an asthma friendly home. Wherever possible, substitute natural ingredients – such as the aforementioned tea tree oil, or an old staple such as white vinegar – for chemical-mix products. Avoid bleach wherever possible.

3. Animal Fur

While an asthma sufferer may not necessarily be allergic to animals, they may still suffer if they encounter a build-up of domestic pet fur. This is particularly true of cats, the fur from which is very fine and can be inhaled relatively easily. Vacuum regularly and keep an eye out for any hairballs that may be around, and groom your cat and dispose of excess fur regularly.

Asthma-Friendly Cleaning Products

Asthma – a respiratory illness caused by lung tube sensitivity – can affect anyone of any age, and can make the sufferers’ lives extremely unpleasant. If you, or someone you live with, suffers from asthma – it’s time to take a look in your cleaning cupboard.

Household cleaning products purchased from grocery stores tend to be a nightmare in a bottle for asthma sufferers. Those incredible products that clean quickly and easy tend to created by mixing strong chemicals, particles of which are absorbed in to the air – and then inhaled by humans – when the product is used. This is not a problem for healthy individuals, but these chemical particles can be extremely irritating for asthma sufferers – perhaps even to the extent of triggering an act.

The best way to counteract this is to switch to natural cleaning products, using items from yesteryear when chemicals were not readily available. The below items are asthma-friendly cleaning products, and most find them just as effective – if not more so – than their chemical-laden shop bought alternatives.

– White Vinegar: use to clean windows and glass for a streak-free finish, and to tackle stubborn stains.

– Natural Borax: be sure to buy natural substitutes to borax, which are just as effective though a little more expensive. A wonderful all-purpose cleaner to be used wherever you previously may have used bleach.

– Tea tree oil: a natural anti-bacterial substance, tea tree oil works well anywhere you wish to rid yourself of germs.

– Bees wax: better, and cheaper, than conventional furniture polish.

By switching to these products, you’ll not only save money but will vastly improve the air quality for anyone suffering from asthma. Everyone wins!

Asthma and the Winters of Discontent

Depending on the sufferer, the respiratory illness asthma can manifest itself in various ways. Some asthma sufferers find their condition is made worse by exposure to dust, whereas others will experience unpleasant tightness of breath while exercising.

One often overlooked cause of asthma aggravation is changes in temperature – that is, air temperature. This problem tends to present itself during winter, when a sufferer goes from a warm building inside and out in to cold air. This sudden change causes the lining of the lungs to contract in shock, and can trigger coughing fits, shortness of breath and wheezing in asthma sufferers. This can make winter an extremely unpleasant season for anyone affected.

There are various ways to deal with the issue, though none are 100% effective – but you can look to improve the situation. First and foremost; wrap up warm! The warmer you are when you step outside, the better chance your lungs will have with coping with the sudden change. A scarf, wrapped around the neck and preferably tucked in to the chest, is your best form of defense

It is also best to give your lungs chance to adjust to the change in temperature – so when you go outside, don’t suddenly start walking or exercising. Stand still and take shallow-to-medium breaths for a few minutes, so your lungs can adjust while they are in a relaxed state. If you change temperatures and then suddenly ask your lungs to work harder – such as by walking immediately – they will struggle to deal with the change all the more. Take it slowly and give your lungs a good chance to adapt

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What Causes Asthma?

asthma inhaler

Exact causes of asthma are unknown; there is no direct chain of events that effects every single sufferer. There is some evidence that asthma is a genetic condition, as people inherit the tendency towards inflamed airways – the primary problem associated with asthma. If a child’s parents both have asthma, they are statistically more likely to suffer from the illness themselves – but this is not always the case. Similarly, a child can have asthma even if there is no genetic history of it in their family. It really does seem to be the luck of the draw.

People who suffer from asthma are more likely to have allergies, particularly to dust mites and hay fever But again, this is not a certain link: lots of people who have hay fever do not have asthma, for example, just as lots of people who have asthma do not have hay fever

There are no known substances that are thought to actively ’cause’ asthma – though certain things, such as chemicals, allergens and smoke are known to exacerbate an existing condition.

It is natural when you, or someone you know, is diagnosed with asthma to question why it has happened. Unfortunately, asthma is one of the many illnesses that simply do not have a specific and clear-cut cause for why they have occurred. Learning to accept that sometimes, quite genuinely, these things do just happen is an important part of coming to terms with their asthma diagnosis.

Finally, if you are a parent and are concerned about passing asthma on to your children, this is by no means a certainty, so try not to fret.

The Link Between Asthma and Allergies

Understanding medicine is a complex business that requires years of study, often to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt things that sufferers of illnesses have long accepted as fact. One such accepted, though not medically confirmed, fact is that there is a link between asthma and allergies.

While it is known that some substances – such as tobacco smoke – can make asthma more difficult to deal with, there is no conclusive proof of a link between asthma and allergies. Many sufferers believe there is no need to fund expensive medical studies to ‘prove’ a link that is well known, and is often discussed by doctors during treatment of asthma.

Without medical studies, it is difficult to say what exactly the link is, but it does appear that people who suffer from any severity level of asthma are more likely to suffer from allergies. The most prevalent allergy is to dust mites, or general household dust. While dust has long been known to affect the lungs of asthma sufferers, it would appear that it can also manifest itself as a skin allergy. Sufferers report excessive itching and other physical discomforts aside from problems with their breathing – though these can be controlled using general anti-histamines.

Hay fever is another common affliction that has become associated with asthma, but again this can be dealt with using over-the-counter anti-histamine remedies. It is merely something asthma sufferers should be aware of, as related allergies can apparently appear at any time – no matter how long they have been suffering with asthma. If you find yourself experiencing physical allergy symptoms, contact your GP for diagnosis and treatment.

Can Exercise Cause Asthma?

There is great debate among the medical community on the issue of “Exercise-Induced Asthma”. This is a type of asthma attack that occurs at a particular time; namely, during or after exercise. Some physicians insist that exercise-induced asthma does not exist and is simply a by-product of the sufferer being unfit – and this attitude extends to the general populace.

In reality, exercise-induced asthma is a very real problem that can effect thousands of people every year. It occurs when someone who already has asthma undergoes any kind of physical activity. Asthma is caused by an irritation in the tubes of the lungs, and studies have shown that the faster an asthma sufferer breathes, the more likely it is they will suffer from the traditional symptoms such as wheezing or coughing.

When we exercise, we get out of breath. This is a natural by-product of exercise and applies to even the fittest, Olympic-standard of athletes. If someone with asthma gets out of breath and begins to breathe faster, this can indeed trigger an asthma attack, as the tubes of their lungs become inflamed due to the speed of breathing.

However, there is no such thing as exercise-induced asthma without an existing asthma condition. Exercise does not create asthma; it merely worsens an existing problem. If someone is claiming to only suffer asthma when they exercise and at no other time in their life, then it is most likely that they are simply not quite fit enough to undertake the physical activity they have engaged in!

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Asthma Questions and Answers

Question: I have always thought of asthma as the kind of illness that is identified in childhood. I’m 34, and I was recently diagnosed with asthma. Is it possible to suddenly start suffering from asthma so late in life?

Answer:

Asthma is predominantly identified in children, who are more susceptible to the inflammation of the lungs that causes asthma. Almost 90% of cases are identified before the sufferer reaches the age of 16, as a combination of children being easily distressed and monitoring by their parents helps to pinpoint the illness.

It is, however, completely possible for someone to get in to their 30s or 40s and only then is it discovered that they have asthma. While the illness can suddenly manifest itself – usually due to a lifelong exposure to an asthma irritant, such as certain chemicals or allergens – in most cases, late-diagnosis asthma is not due to a sudden development of the condition. Usually, if it takes 20 or 30 years to identify the condition, it is relatively mild and has not presented much of a noticeable problem for the sufferer until then. This is quite usual, and simple things like moving in to a more polluted environment or beginning a new job around chemicals may make a long-hidden asthma condition become known.

The prognosis of adult-diagnosed asthma is very good, providing you are willing to learn how to use your inhalers properly and how best to manage the condition. Read up as much about the illness as possible to inform yourself, as it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Question: My daughter is six years old, and I recently took her to the doctor as I had noticed she was occasionally struggling to breathe and was coughing a lot. She was diagnosed with mild asthma and given two inhalers to use, which seem to be doing the job. I have, however, heard that sometimes children of my daughter’s age “grow out” of asthma and it does not effect them as a child. Is there any truth in this?

Answer:

There is actually some truth in this – perhaps not in medical record, but certainly in people’s experience of young children with asthma. Some children do indeed appear to “grow out” of asthma, and do not need to use inhalers or suffer attacks in their adult life.

There are various theories for this; the main one being that a child’s developing lungs are more sensitive, and this can make a mild tendency towards asthma seem more serious than it actually is. When the child grows up, their asthma appears to almost vanish, as their lungs grow and mature.

However, the concept of children never suffering from asthma again in their adult life is very rare – many childhood sufferers will find their illness returns as they age, particularly in their 50s and 60s. Hoping that your child’s asthma will fade away as they grow is natural, though it is important to be realistic. This is particularly true if your child has moderate to severe asthma, as this is less likely to be improved with age.

Question: I have asthma, and find it particularly difficult first thing in the morning when it’s winter. I tend to cough a lot and it’s quite uncontrollable – to the extent where I cannot take my reliever inhaler to correct the problem. I get in to a disturbing cycle of coughing / not being able to inhale the medication, and it really upsets me. How do I combat this?

Answer:

First and foremost, try drinking a warm fluid as soon as possible on cold winter mornings. Tea or coffee are ideal; if you have to make these yourself, cover your mouth with a cloth while you do so and try to take shallow breaths. Prepare the drink so you can drink it quickly – so not boiling, but definitely warm.

Secondly, the continual cycle of coughing that is so bad you cannot get a breath to take your inhalers is not uncommon – though it is unpleasant. The best way to combat this is through a device that operates between your inhaler and your mouth. These devices have various names, including air chambers, inhaler chambers and inhaler assistants. The basic premise is you fit your inhaler to a circular chamber and expel the medication through one “puff” in to the chamber. You then inhale the air from the chamber.

The reason this works is it takes away the immediacy of needing to inhale right then and there if you place the inhaler directly in your mouth. Being able to take quick bursts of the medication from the chamber should alleviate the problem. Good luck!

Question: I have read up on asthma symptoms and I am concerned that I suffer from the condition. How do I go about obtaining a diagnosis?

Answer:

First and foremost, consult your doctor. If you are experiencing any breathing difficulties at all, it is important to get things checked with your doctor.

At said appointment, your doctor will perform a number of checks to see if they can confirm a diagnosis of asthma:

– Listen To Your Chest

Your doctor will listen to your chest using a conventional stethoscope. Asthma is caused by a narrowing of the airways due to irritation, and this affects the way your breathing sounds. By listening to it, your doctor will have a firm idea of asthma may be the cause of your troubles.

– Perform A Peak Flow Reading

A Peak Flow Meter is a device used to determine the strength at which a person can exhale; someone with asthma is not likely to be able to exhale forcefully, and will have a low peak flow reading. The measurement is taken by blowing in to a small circular tube with a gauge at the top, and takes only a few seconds. This will be a key part of assessing whether or not you have asthma.

– Giving You Inhalers To Try

If the above tests, along with your detailed symptoms, suggest that you may be suffering from asthma, you will begin experimental treatment. Your doctor will prescribe two inhalers for your daily use, and you will return to see them within a fortnight. At this point another Peak Flow reading will be taken; if the reading has improved on the previous one, this is due to the inhalers, confirming you need them and thus confirming asthma.

Question: I’ve heard something called the “hygiene hypothesis” being referenced when discussing asthma. What is this?

Answer:

The “hygiene hypothesis” is a school of thought presented by certain medical studies, discovered during investigations in to why asthma is seemingly on the rise. While by no means a new condition, cases of asthma have been steadily rising since records began. Certain medical studies have tried to find out why this is, and along with environmental factors, the hygiene hypothesis has been suggested for this rise in cases.

“Hygiene hypothesis” is the term used to describe the fact that, as a species, we are far more hygienic than we have ever been. Most households use strong cleaning products, and young children are not as exposed to dirt and bacteria as they were in the 1950s and 1960s. While this cannot really be seen as a bad things, some studies have suggested that it may have contributed to a rise in asthma cases.

Bacteria in the air, when inhaled, is aggravating – and can cause temporary inflammation of the lungs. This usually manifests itself in coughing. Young children in the earlier parts of the 20th century would have had daily exposure to bacteria due to less rigorous hygiene and cleaning standards; as a result, the bronchi of their lungs would appear irritated. The body would then learn how to deal with this, and calm the bronchi down.

Asthma can essentially be described as a irritation of the bronchi. As children nowadays are not exposed to the same levels of bacteria, their bodies do not learn to ‘calm’ the bronchi in their early life. This, some suggest, has lead to a larger number of asthma cases, as when presented with bacteria now, the body is not as well-versed in how to react.

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Treating Asthma

Although asthma is defined as a chronic (i.e. long term) illness, it is not usually life threatening – and for most sufferers becomes more of an annoyance than a genuine threat to their well-being. As one of the most common non-life-threatening illnesses in the world, asthma is well studied by medical research scientists, and as a result there are several treatments available.

By far the best known asthma treatment is via medicine inhalation. The primary medicines used in inhalers are beta-2 agonists (for relieving an acute attack of asthma) and corticosteroids (for preventing attacks). These medications come in a variety of doses depending on the severity of the sufferers’ condition, and are inhaled directly in to the lungs using an inhaler (sometimes known as a ‘puffer’). As these treatments go directly to the source of the issue by entering the lungs immediately, they have long been proven to be the most effective asthma treatment.

Another option is steroid treatment, usually in tablet form. However, a course of steroids is usually only ever prescribed following a severe asthma attack – usually of the kind of severity that results in hospitalization The vast majority of sufferers will never need anything beyond their combination of inhalers to deal with their illness.

The concluding option is also only used in the case of a severe attack, though is an option during the attack rather than following it. Nebulizers create a mixture of water and air, through which one can inhale a purer form of the usual medication used in inhalers. Nebulizers tend to be carried on emergency calls and at hospitals, though some sufferers’ of extremely severe asthma may be offered one at home.

Home Remedies

While any asthma sufferer should always first and foremost rely on their inhalers and other medication to ease the condition, there are at-home remedies that can be tried. Please not these should be used in conjunction with formal medical treatment, not as a replacement. Ideally, try one of these methods if you have already used your medication and are still experiencing some discomfort.

– Steam

Many asthma sufferers will be well aware that cold air can exacerbate asthma, and the reverse is also true: you may find that warm air is soothing, and may reduce coughing and wheezing in between taking doses of medicine. Rather than directly inhaling steam, fill a bath tub with very hot water and then sit in the room for half an hour, inhaling deeply. This may just get rid of some irritation, and allow for a sufferer to be more comfortable until their next dose of prescribed medication.

– Sit Up

When we are feeling unwell, there is a natural tendency to want to curl up in bed. However, this can have a detrimental effect on asthma sufferers, as being horizontal makes it more difficult to get air in to your lungs – especially if you lay on your back. To ease this, sit up regularly and extend your torso in a stretch while breathing deeply.

– Cover Your Mouth

If you are finding the very act of breathing is making your asthma uncomfortable, try breathing through a cloth or cotton wool. For reasons unknown, this sometimes has the effect of calming asthma irritation down.

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Living With Asthma

Asthma is a respiratory illness, caused by an inflammation and subsequent narrowing of the ‘tubes’ of the lungs (medically known as the bronchi). It is largely incurable but is not life threatening, and for many asthma sufferers it is merely a matter of learning to shape their life around asthma and discovering tips on how to deal with it.

When one first receives an asthma diagnosis, there is a natural reaction of shock and upset. Asthma is a chronic condition, and when diagnosed in adults will tend to be with the person for the rest of their life. This shocked and saddened reaction is completely natural, but it is important to focus on the fact that asthma is very, very rarely fatal – and even then, usually only in conjunction with other medical problems.

Asthma is an illness that needs to be recognized in a daily lifestyle, but not given in to. With correct, inhalation-based treatment, the vast majority of asthma cases can be controlled – and the sufferer will live a normal life, providing they take the correct precautions. Asthma does not mean the end of being able to exercise or enjoy life – it merely means learning what works for you, what triggers an attack and how to prevent it.

Simple changes can make big differences to the life of an asthma sufferer. Things like switching from chemical-based cleaning products to natural solutions have great effects, and avoiding smoky places also makes a big difference. Asthma is controllable, and with the correct medication and a little due care and attention, people may never need know someone has it.

What to Avoid

Although asthma is largely controllable with medication, there are certain stimulants that can bring on an attack even if medication has been used. Learning to identify these stimuli and – wherever possible – avoid them is an important part of learning to cope with asthma.

– Smoke: tobacco smoke is a major stimulant of asthma and can in fact worsen the conditions over time.

– Strong cleaning products: any cleaning product that contains strong chemicals is to be avoided. There are plenty of natural product solutions which will leave your home just as clean, but your lungs far more healthy.

– Certain medications: penicillin (primarily used to treat infections) and aspirin (used in pain relief) can exacerbate asthma. Use substitutes wherever possible, such as paracetamol in place of aspirin when you have a headache.

– Swimming pools: not for the water, but for the chlorine. As mentioned with cleaning products, any strong chemical will have an adverse effect on asthma sufferers. Always check with a pool venue before using it to see if the pool is chlorinated.

– Menstrual cycle: women may be more prone to asthma attacks during their menstrual cycle or during pregnancy, due to the hormonal changes and imbalances that occur during this time.

– Stress: an asthma sufferer is far more likely to experience an attack when they are stressed, nervous or panicked than they are when they are feeling emotionally stable. It is especially important to control your temper if you have asthma.

The above is just a brief grounding in the many stimuli of asthma; avoid them wherever possible, and also note down any stimuli that seem applicable to your experiences.

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