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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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