Before we talk about treatment, let us first understand four important things about asthma:
1. IT IS A PULMONARY PROBLEM.
The complete and more correct name is bronchial asthma. The bronchi are part of the respiratory system.
2. IT IS A CHRONIC DISORDER.
The condition is not cured; it is controlled. An asthmatic person never stops being asthmatic; he or she just learns to live with it and get better at managing it. It is not correct to say that a child can “outgrow” asthma. Rather, an asthmatic child can live a life free of its symptoms.
3. IT INVOLVES THE IMMUNE SYSTEM.
When an asthmatic is exposed to a “trigger” (such as cigarette smoke, dust, molds, pollen, animal hair, infection, stress, exercise, irritating chemicals, or cold air), the hypersensitive airways react by causing swelling, mucus production, and tightening of the muscles around the airway. By itself, asthma is not a contagious disease. But what often happens is that a communicable disease, like colds or pneumonia, serves as a trigger that causes an asthma attack. An asthmatic can certainly pass on the cold or pneumonia, but he or she will not be able to transfer the asthmatic condition.
4. OBSTRUCTION OF THE AIRWAYS IS REVERSIBLE.
The narrowing of the airways is lessened by removing the cause of the attack and through treatment with drugs.
The first treatment for asthma is prevention of attacks. This means knowing the triggers that set off an attack, and avoiding these.
[Click here for details on symptoms and treatment]
Read these other articles for more info on asthma and other health tips:
- 5 Myths about Asthma
- Health Check: 10 Things You Should Do before Visiting the Doctor
- Health Check: 10 Habits of Healthy Women
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(First published in Good Housekeeping Magazine, Good Health section as "Health Check" in October 2005; photo by cproppe via Flickr Creative Commons ; adapted for use in Female Network)
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Medical treatment depends on how often the symptoms occur and how severe they are. Treatment concentrates on three things: relaxing the muscles along the airways, preventing swelling, and slowing down mucus production. An asthmatic is usually given more than one drug to control symptoms. Long-term control medications, like steroids, act to reduce inflammation. Quick-acting inhaled medications are for prompt relief of symptoms, like wheezing or tightness of the chest brought on by an asthma attack.
It is best to discuss specific drugs with your doctor because the dose depends on the severity of the symptoms and the age or weight of the child. There are many drugs in the market today, and you have to be aware of the pros and cons of each drug—and how your child responds to them.
Whatever treatment modality you and your doctor choose, your child should be taught to recognize acute symptoms, take a puff of the asthma medication when needed, and report the condition to an adult. Your child should be able to tell you how often attacks occur, which is an indication of whether the medication is adequate. Being involved in treatment teaches an asthmatic child to remain in control of the situation, and not be overcome by the disease.
Symptoms vary from person to person. For some, attacks are few and far between, while for others, the condition is almost persistent. But you should take notice when your child complains about the following:
1. Shortness of breath. Difficulty in breathing, even with just mild to moderate exertion.
2. Wheezing high-pitched sounds during inhalation. Take note: Not all asthmatics wheeze, and there are other diseases that cause wheezing.
3. Tightness in the chest. The feeling that air isn’t getting into the lungs.
4. Coughing. Sometimes the only apparent symptom; often dry, occurring at night, or after exercise.
(Photo by Poi Photography via Flickr Creative Commons)
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