Dr. Pawan S. Chandak BHMS (Parbhani, India)
Basic Medical Consideration of Asthma:
Definition: Asthma is a chronic illness involving the respiratory system in which the airway occasionally constricts, becomes inflamed, and is lined with excessive amounts of mucus, often in response to one or more triggers. These episodes may be triggered by such things as exposure to an environmental stimulant (or allergen) such as cold air, warm air, moist air, exercise or exertion, or emotional stress. In children, the most common triggers are viral illnesses such as those that cause the common cold.
This airway narrowing causes symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing. The airway constriction responds to bronchodilators. Between episodes, most patients feel well but can have mild symptoms and they may remain short of breath after exercise for longer periods of time than the unaffected individual. The symptoms of asthma, which can range from mild to life threatening, can usually be controlled with a combination of drugs and environmental changes.
Public attention in the developed world has recently focused on asthma because of its rapidly increasing prevalence, affecting up to one in four urban children
Inflamed airways and bronchoconstriction in asthma. Airways narrowed as a result of the inflammatory response cause wheezing.
During an asthma episode, inflamed airways react to environmental triggers such as smoke, dust, or pollen. The airways narrow and produce excess mucus, making it difficult to breathe. In essence, asthma is the result of an immune response in the bronchial airways.
The airways of asthmatics are "hypersensitive" to certain triggers, also known as stimuli. In response to exposure to these triggers, the bronchi (large airways) contract into spasm (an "asthma attack"). Inflammation soon follows, leading to a further narrowing of the airways and excessive mucus production, which leads to coughing and other breathing difficulties.
Allergens from nature, typically inhaled, which include waste from common household pests, such as the house dust mite and cockroach, grass pollen, mould spores, and pet epithelial cells; Indoor air pollution from volatile organic compounds, including perfumes and perfumed products. Examples include soap, dishwashing liquid, laundry detergent, fabric softener, paper tissues, paper towels, toilet paper, shampoo, hairspray, hair gel, cosmetics, facial cream, sun cream, deodorant, cologne, shaving cream, aftershave lotion, air freshener and candles, and products such as oil-based paint.
Medications, including aspirin, β-adrenergic antagonists (beta blockers), and penicillin.
Food allergies such as milk, peanuts, and eggs. However, asthma is rarely the only symptom, and not all people with food or other allergies have asthma.
Use of fossil fuel related allergenic air pollution, such as ozone, smog, summer smog, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide, which is thought to be one of the major reasons for the high prevalence of asthma in urban areas.
Various industrial compounds and other chemicals, notably sulfites; chlorinated swimming pools generate chloramines—monochloramine (NH2Cl), dichloramine (NHCl2) and trichloramine (NCl3)—in the air around them, which are known to induce asthma.
Early childhood infections, especially viral respiratory infections. However, persons of any age can have asthma triggered by colds and other respiratory infections even though their normal stimuli might be from another category (e.g. pollen) and absent at the time of infection. 80% of asthma attacks in adults and 60% in children are caused by respiratory viruses.
Allergenic indoor air pollution from newsprint & other literature such as, junk mail leaflets & glossy magazines
Hormonal changes in adolescent girls and adult women associated with their menstrual cycle can lead to a worsening of asthma. Some women also experience a worsening of their asthma during pregnancy whereas others find no significant changes, and in other women their asthma improves during their pregnancy.
Emotional stress. Emotional stress can affect breathing temporarily, however unlike something such as heart problems, it is unclear if it has any long-term effect.
Cold weather can make it harder for asthmatics to breathe.
The mechanisms behind allergic asthma—i.e., asthma resulting from an immune response to inhaled allergens—are the best understood of the causal factors. In both asthmatics and non-asthmatics, inhaled allergens that find their way to the inner airways are ingested by a type of cell known as antigen presenting cells, or APCs. APCs then "present" pieces of the allergen to other immune system cells. In most people, these other immune cells (TH0 cells) "check" and usually ignore the allergen molecules. In asthmatics, however, these cells transform into a different type of cell (TH2), for reasons that are not well understood. The resultant TH2 cells activate an important arm of the immune system, known as the humoral immune system. The humoral immune system produces antibodies against the inhaled allergen. Later, when an asthmatic inhales the same allergen, these antibodies "recognize" it and activate a humoral response. Inflammation results: chemicals are produced that cause the airways to constrict and release more mucus, and the cell-mediated arm of the immune system is activated. The inflammatory response is responsible for the clinical manifestations of an asthma attack.
Signs and symptoms:
In some individuals asthma is characterized by chronic respiratory impairment. In others it is an intermittent illness marked by episodic symptoms that may result from a number of triggering events, including upper respiratory infection, stress, airborne allergens, air pollutants (such as smoke or traffic fumes), or exercise. Some or all of the following symptoms may be present in those with asthma: dyspnoea, wheezing, stridor, coughing, an inability for physical exertion. Some asthmatics that have severe shortness of breath and tightening of the lungs never wheeze or have stridor and their symptoms may be confused with a COPD-type disease.
An acute exacerbation of asthma is referred to as an asthma attack. The clinical hallmarks of an attack are shortness of breath (dyspnea) and either wheezing or stridor. Some patients present primarily with coughing, and in the late stages of an attack, air motion may be so impaired that no wheezing may be heard. When present the cough may sometimes produce clear sputum. The onset may be sudden, with a sense of constriction in the chest, breathing becomes difficult, and wheezing occurs (primarily upon expiration, but can be in both respiratory phases).
Signs of an asthmatic episode include wheezing, rapid breathing (tachypnea), prolonged expiration, a rapid heart rate (tachycardia), rhonchous lung sounds (audible through a stethoscope), and over-inflation of the chest. During a serious asthma attack, the accessory muscles of respiration (sternocleidomastoid and scalene muscles of the neck) may be used, shown as in-drawing of tissues between the ribs and above the sternum and clavicles, and the presence of a paradoxical pulse (a pulse that is weaker during inhalation and stronger during exhalation).
During very severe attacks, an asthma sufferer can turn blue from lack of oxygen, and can experience chest pain or even loss of consciousness. Just before loss of consciousness, there is a chance that the patient will feel numbness in the limbs and palms may start to sweat. Feet may become icy cold. Severe asthma attacks, which may not be responsive to standard treatments (status asthmaticus), are life-threatening and may lead to respiratory arrest and death. Despite the severity of symptoms during an asthmatic episode, between attacks an asthmatic may show few or even no signs of the disease.
Asthma is defined simply as reversible airway obstruction. Reversibility occurs either spontaneously or with treatment.
In many cases, a physician can diagnose asthma on the basis of typical findings in a patient's clinical history and examination. Asthma is strongly suspected if a patient suffers from eczema or other allergic conditions—suggesting a general atopic constitution—or has a family history of asthma.
Diagnosis in children is based on a careful compilation and analysis of the patient's medical history and subsequent improvement with an inhaled bronchodilator medication. In adults, diagnosis can be made with a peak flow meter (which tests airway restriction), looking at both the diurnal variation and any reversibility following inhaled bronchodilator medication.
Testing peak flow at rest (or baseline) and after exercise can be helpful, especially in young asthmatics who may experience only exercise-induced asthma. If the diagnosis is in doubt, a more formal lung function test may be conducted. Once a diagnosis of asthma is made, a patient can use peak flow meter testing to monitor the severity of the disease.
In the Emergency Department doctors may use a capnography which measures the amount of exhaled carbon dioxide, along with pulse oximetry which shows the amount of oxygen dissolved in the blood, to determine the severity of an asthma attack as well as the response to treatment.
Before diagnosing someone as asthmatic, alternative possibilities should be considered. A clinician taking a history should check whether the patient is using any known bronchoconstrictors (substances that cause narrowing of the airways, e.g., certain anti-inflammatory agents or beta-blockers).
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which closely resembles asthma, is correlated with more exposure to cigarette smoke, an older patient, less symptom reversibility after bronchodilator administration (as measured by spirometry), and decreased likelihood of family history of atopy.
Pulmonary aspiration, whether direct due to dysphagia (swallowing disorder) or indirect (due to acid reflux), can show similar symptoms to asthma. However, with aspiration, fevers might also indicate aspiration pneumonia. Direct aspiration (dysphagia) can be diagnosed by performing a Modified Barium Swallow test and treated with feeding therapy by a qualified speech therapist. If the aspiration is indirect (from acid reflux) then treatment directed at this is indicated.
After a pulmonary function test has been carried out, radiological tests, such as a chest X-ray or CT scan, may be required to exclude the possibility of other lung diseases. In some people, asthma may be triggered by gastroesophageal reflux disease, which can be treated with suitable antacids. Very occasionally, specialized tests after inhalation of methacholine — or, even less commonly, histamine — may be performed.
Types of Asthma:
Asthma is categorized by the United States National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute as falling into one of four categories: intermittent, mild persistent, moderate persistent and severe persistent. The diagnosis of "severe persistent asthma" occurs when symptoms are continual with frequent exacerbations and frequent night-time symptoms, result in limited physical activity and when lung function as measured by PEV or FEV1 tests is less than 60% predicted with PEF variability greater than 30%.
Homoeopathic Treatment is better choice for permanent cure of Asthma.
Article Presented by
Dr. Pawan S. Chandak
‘Shradha’ Vishnu nagar,
Basmat Road, Parbhani 431401