Asthma, which comes from the Greek word which means panting, affects nearly about 17 million Americans, 5 million cases of which are in children and teenagers below 18 years old. This respiratory disorder causes about 5,500 deaths each year in United States alone.
Asthma is an inflammation of the air passages of the lungs, causing difficulty for an individual to send air in and out the lungs. As we inhale, we take oxygen and feed our system with it. Air comes in and out the lung by passing through the lungs and flowing through smaller airways we call as the bronchi and the bronchioles. Human lungs contain millions of bronchi and bronchioles and all these lead to alveoli, the microscopic sacs we have in our lungs where we keep and exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Asthma attack is the narrowing of these air passages, causing individuals to cough, experience wheeziness and shortness of breath. The narrowing of the air passages is usually temporary, reversible and can be relieved through instant hand-carry medications. But in severe attacks, this disorder may lead to death.
Attack is triggered by allergens like particles present in air or in food or other environmental factors like weather condition, etc. An asthmatic individual has two specific responses against these triggers. The first one is the hyperreactive response (also known as hyperreactiveness) and 2. the inflammatory response. These responses causes attack symptoms to appear.
In this response, the muscles along the airways become constricted and narrows too much as a response to inhaled or ingested allergens or irritants. It is actually normal for the muscles along our airways to constrict when exposed to these particles. But for asthmatic individuals, results can be extremely different as they experience shortness of breath and start to breathe harder.
People without this condition can relax the muscles along airways easily on their own, and open the take off irritant from the lungs. However, those who have asthma, the muscles can’t relax; rather it narrows causing shortage of air. Smooth muscles along the air passage may have defects, which may be caused by deficiency from certain body chemicals that prevent the muscles from constricting.
This is the second phase of the body’s response. In Inflammatory response, the immune system sends antibodies to the airways. This will then lead to swelling of the air passages and it will be filled with thick fluid called the mucus. The combination of first phase symptoms like wheezing and shortness of breath and inability to exhale air properly causes the production of phlegm-causing cough.
Those individuals with mild cases of this condition can also get their air passages inflamed because of this process.
So what is the real cause of Asthma?
Actually, the real cause of this disorder is still unknown. Experts say that this condition is generally caused by combinations of genetically inherited problems in the lungs and environmental factors such as allergens and infections. This disease is hereditary; parents with this condition are more likely to pass this illness on their children.