Asthma is chronic disease that is hallmarked by the inflammation of the bronchial or breathing tubes, in the lungs. While there is no known specific cause for the condition, many of its triggers are well known and avoidable; and those that can’t be avoided can be well managed.
15 million adults and 5 million children in the United Stated have asthma, a chronic respiratory disease that can cause early morning or late night coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, fatigue, anxiety and shortness of breath. Asthma symptoms can be mild or serious, and they can also be life threatening during an asthma attack.
Our lungs are filled with hollow tube like passages that resemble the branches on a tree. These passages gradually become smaller and smaller ending in tiny pockets where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged. For those with asthma, swelling in the hollow tubes makes breathing difficult and uncomfortable by preventing the air from moving freely. This inflammation causes an increased sensitivity to allergens and a host of other asthma triggers.
So what causes asthma? It is generally believed that exposure to allergens early in life can trigger asthma, but heredity plays a role too and can predispose certain populations to this chronic condition. Allergen induced asthma usually becomes apparent before the age of 35. Non allergic asthma usually has its onset in middle age and can be triggered or worsened by reflux disease, exercise, weather changes and illness.
Environmental lung irritants are by far the biggest culprits in triggering asthma problems and include cleaning products, perfume, smoke, mold, dust, pollution, mildew, seasonal pollen and animal dander.
Lifestyle and illness also play a role in causing respiratory flare-ups in those susceptible.
Stress, exercise, laughter, foods and food additives like sulfites, getting a cold, the flu or a bronchial infection, and even changes in the weather can bring the asthmatic closer to an asthma attack.
Luckily for asthmatics many of the factors that can lead to an asthma attack can be eliminated or reduced in their lives. Keeping the environment clean and dust free to avoid exposure to mold, mildew and dust mites, avoiding pets and smoke, staying inside on windy days and always riding in the car with the windows up to avoid excessive amounts of pollen, avoiding exposure to household chemicals and perfumed body products, and running a dehumidifier on humid days can all help to reduce the causes of environmental allergen triggers. Reducing stress, increasing exercise and working to stay healthy are necessary additional steps to managing asthma.
Asthma is on the rise in the United States and in other developed countries around the globe; and though no one knows exactly why, it is theorized that the culprits may be a byproduct of our more industrialized lives. People spend more time indoors where household pollutants are greater, and though environments are generally healthier, with less exposure to viruses and bacteria our immune systems may be becoming more sensitive to these issues.
There is no cure for asthma, but medication, and environmental and lifestyle changes can help to alleviate the symptoms and keep asthma from limiting the lives of those afflicted.