Status asthmaticus; intrinsic asthma; exercise induced asthma; asthma; allergic asthma
Bronchial asthma is a lung disorder characterized by periodic attacks of wheezing alternating with periods of relatively normal breathing.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Bronchial asthma is usually intrinsic (no cause can be demonstrated), but is occasionally caused by a specific allergy (suc h as allergy to mold, dander, dust). Although most individuals with asthma will have some positive allergy tests, the allergy is not necessarily the cause of the asthma symptoms.
Symptoms can occur spontaneously or can be triggered by respiratory infections, exercise, cold air, tobacco smoke or other pollutants, stress or anxiety, or by food allergies or drug allergies. The muscles of the bronchial tree become tight and the lining of the air passages become swollen, reducing airflow and producing the wheezing sound. Mucus production is increased.
Typically, the individual usually breathes relatively normally, and will have periodic attacks of wheezing. Asthma attacks can last minutes to days, and can become dangerous if the airflow becomes severely restricted. Asthma affects 1 in 20 of the overall population, but the incidence is 1 in 10 in children. Asthma can develop at any age, but some children seem to outgrow the illness. Risk factors include self or family history of eczema, allergies or family history of asthma.
Decrease or control exposure to known allergens by staying away from cigarette smoke, removing animals from bedrooms or entire houses, and avoiding foods that cause symptoms. Allergy desensitization is rarely successful in reducing symptoms.
- usually begins suddenly
- composed of a sequence of attacks (episodic)
- may be worse at night or in early morning
- aggravated by exposure to cold air
- aggravated by exercise
- resolves spontaneously
- good relief from bronchodilators (drugs that open the airways)
cough with sputum (phlegm) production containing mucus (mucoid sputum)
cough increasing recently
shortness of breath aggravated by exercise
shortness of breath occurs only when wheezing
breathing requires increased work
- extreme difficulty breathing
- bluish color to the lips and face
- severe anxiety
- rapid pulse
Additional symptoms that may be associated with this disease:
- nasal flaring
- coughing up blood
- chest pain
- breathing, absent temporarily
- a feeling of chest tightness
- increased front-to-back diameter of the chest (barrel shaped chest)
- abnormal breathing pattern, exhalation takes more than twice as long as inspiration.
Listening to the chest (auscultation) reveals wheezing during an episode. However, lung sounds are usually normal between episodes.
Tests may include:
- pulmonary function tests
- chest X-ray
- CBC shows increase in eosinophils
- arterial blood gas
This disease may also alter the results of the following tests:
- Immunoelectrophoresis - serum
- eosinophil count - absolute
Treatment is aimed at avoiding known allergens and controlling symptoms through medication.
A variety of medications for treatment of asthma are available and include:
- anti-inflammatory medications
- inhaled corticosteroids (Azmacort, Vanceril, AeroBid)
- oral or intravenous corticosteroids (such as prednisone, methylprednisolone, and hydrocortisone)
- nedocromil sodium
- inhaled or oral (Proventil, Alupent, Bronkosol, and others)
- cromolyn sodium (Intal)--used to prevent attacks, not for treatment during an attack
- aminophylline or theophylline
People with mild asthma (infrequent attacks) may use inhalers on an as-needed basis. Persons with significant asthma (symptoms occur at least every week) should be treated with anti-inflammatory medications, preferably inhaled corticosteroids, and then with bronchodilators such as inhaled Alupent or Vanceril. Acute severe asthma may require hospitalization, oxygen, and intravenous medications.
A peak flow meter, a simple device to measure lung volume, can be used at home to check on lung functions on a daily basis. This often helps determine when medication is needed or can be tapered in the case of an exacerbation of symptoms.
The stress of illness can often be helped by joining a support group where members share common experiences and problems.
Asthma is a disease that has no cure. With proper self management and medical treatment, most people with asthma can lead normal lives.
- respiratory fatigue
- complications from overuse of medications (particularly inhalers)--see the specific medication
Calling your health care provider
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you or your child experience mild asthma symptoms (to discuss treatment options).
Call your health care provider or go to the emergency room if severe chest pain develops, an attack requires more intensive use of medication than usual or requires more medication than recommended in the prescription, or if shortness of breath occurs at rest.
Call your health care provider if symptoms worsen or do not improve with treatment or if new symptoms develop.