Asthma is a chronic disease of the respiratory tract. It is characterised by an infection of the bronchial mucosa with paroxysmal constriction of the bronchial tubes. The bronchial tubes react to different stimuli such as flower pollen, animal hair, exertion or cold. Coughing fits, breathing difficulties and whistling breathing sounds are typical symptoms of asthma. Children are often particularly affected by asthma; however, it subsides or even disappears completely in many sufferers as they age.
Asthma is one of the most common types of lung disease, and even the most common chronic disease in children. It is assumed that approx.10% of children and 7% of adults are affected by asthma. Asthma has become more common in recent years. Pollutants in the air are believed to be partly responsible for this. Allergens such as house dust mites, flower pollen or animal hair are the main reasons why people develop asthma. However, psychological stress can cause an asthma attack. Many asthma sufferers also have a certain genetic predisposition. The allergens lead to chronic inflammation of the bronchial mucosa. Repeated or severe exposure to these allergens causes spasmodic construction of the bronchial tubes, which leads to the typical asthma symptoms. In some sufferers, asthma is worsened or triggered by exertion (exertion asthma) or by the cold (cold asthma). In contrast to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease COPD, the constriction of the bronchial tubes which occurs during asthma is only temporary and can be remedied with medication.
Chronic coughs, coughing fits, breathing difficulties and whistling breathing sounds are characteristic symptoms of asthma. The coughing fits occur more often at night, during exertion or when it is cold. Asthma typically makes it harder to exhale. The cough is either dry or accompanied by sputum with clear, viscous mucous. In severe cases, it can cause serious breathing difficulties and rapid heartbeat. Such attacks, termed status asthmaticus, can develop into medical emergencies.
Asthma is diagnosed on the basis of the patient's medical history, with a check of their lung function and with allergy tests. In many cases, allergies can be detected. Asthma can be differentiated from COPD with a lung function test.
Asthma treatment principally has three objectives. Firstly, to reduce the triggers (allergens), secondly, to treat the chronic inflammation and thirdly, to expand the cramped and constricted bronchial tubes. Anti-inflammatory medications, such as cortisone, are used to treat chronic inflammation. Medications which expand the bronchial tubes are known as bronchodilators. The medication must be administered regularly in the form of inhalation sprays. Asthma sufferers usually carry additional emergency medication on their person to treat a status asthmaticus.
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