Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Understanding Asthma

What is asthma?
Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the lungs and its airways. It affects adults and children alike, but asthma in children is different, explains Dr. Agnes Sebastian-Sanchez, pediatric pulmonologist at the Victor R. Potenciano Medical Center and the Healthway Medical Clinics (both in the Philippines). "Children have smaller airways so the symptoms are exaggerated, particularly in younger kids."

Asthma is a chronic condition characterized by acute attacks. These attacks are caused by hyperreactive airways, which produce increased mucus, then subsequently tighten and narrow, causing airway obstruction. All these bring about the common asthma symptoms of coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.

Dr. Rommel Tipones, adult pulmonologist at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute in the Philippines and the Healthway Medical Clinics, shares these handy tools for controlling asthma triggers.

Quit smoking. Ban smoking inside your home.
Keep furry pets out of your home.
Keep doors and windows closed to control the entry of outdoor allergens. Air-conditioning, although expensive, will help.
Remove stuffed animals, carpeting, curtains, or anything that collects dust, from the bedroom. Cover your mattresses and pillows with airtight covers.
Get a flu shot each year. These are safe for adults and children over 3.
Drugs defined

Drugs defined
Asthma medications can either be inhaled or swallowed (systemic medication). Tipones says inhaled medications are preferred because they deliver the drug direct to the airways, decreasing any side effects that affect the whole body (systemic effects). Medications are classified into relievers, which help stop attacks once they start, and controllers, which help prevent attacks from starting.

Relievers consist of bronchodilators, which keep the airways open, allowing you to breathe during an attack. Inhaled bronchodilators in the proper dose and frequency are very effective. It is the one medication that every asthmatic should have handy wherever he goes. Inhaled bronchodilators are the medication of choice for exercise-induced asthma and are the only medication that those with mild asthma will ever need.
Controllers are anti-inflammatory medications that reduce the swelling of airways and their mucus production. There are different types, including the ever-popular corticosteroids. These are recommended for daily use and are safe and highly effective for long-term therapy. But remember that they have to be used regularly and consistently for maximum effect.

Inhaled corticosteroids are the most frequently used controller medication, but they require spacer devices to avoid side effects such as throat infections. Systemic steroids are only given for severe, uncontrolled asthma. They are extremely effective but can cause serious side effects with prolonged use. Among the many side effects are weight gain, nausea and vomiting, face puffiness and foot swelling, hyperacidity, growth retardation in kids, early cataracts, delayed wound healing and infections.
Finally, successful asthma management relies heavily on you as the patient. Everyone with asthma has a responsibility to learn everything about the condition.
Take your med exactly as prescribed, even when you feel well. With controller medicine, the effects are not evident immediately. It takes a few weeks for them to work. For this reason, some people discontinue medication because they deem it unnecessary or see no attack forthcoming.

To control your asthma continuously and permanently, you must adhere to the treatment exactly as the doctor recommends. "Asthma management requires a partnership between the patient, his family and their doctor," Sebastian-Sanchez stresses. Asthma can last a lifetime and can even be life threatening, but if you manage it properly, it is almost always controllable

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