What is Asthma ?
Before trying to clarify the meaning of the word asthma, let us get some clarity on the term allergy. An allergy is an oversensitivity in a person to certain things in the environment. For instance a person allergic to eggs reacts abnormally after eating an egg. This reaction may occur at different parts of the body. It could be a skin rash, sneezing, diarrhea or wheezing. Thus an allergy can manifest at different sensitive organs giving rise to different symptoms.
In Asthma, it is the air tubes of the lungs (the bronchi) that are oversensitive. The oversensitivity could be to any or many of the following : pollens, fungal spores, house dust, animal sanders, smells, smoke etc. They are like a touch me not plant which reacts briskly when touched. They are irritable and get easily irritated by the above mentioned stimuli. And when they get irritated they react. The reaction does 3 things in varying proportion :
- Constriction of the air tubes : this causes wheeze, tightness and breathlessness.
- Phlegm production : this causes balgam
- Irritative chemical : this causes dry irritative cough
In given patient, one or the other symptom may be more or less.
So this, in simple language , is what asthma is.
Asthma could come in attacks or may be indolent and ongoing. It may come only during the change of season or may be present throughout the year. It could be stable or brittle. It could be easy or difficult to control. Dry cough may be it’s only manifestation. This is called cough variant asthma.
Children with asthma have a lot of dry cough without phlegm or even shortness of breath. The cough is more at night or early morning. It may come on exertion or on laughing. Coughing bouts followed by vomiting are highly suggestive of asthma.
Elderly people with asthma have couch, phlegm and tiredness as the common manifestations of asthma. They generally don’t complain about breathlessness because they generally are not exerting enough to feel breathlessness.
Many patients who have sneezing, runny nose and blocked nose ( ie. who have Allergic Rhinitis ) have minor and indolent symptoms of asthma. But they don’t realize it. This is partly because their nasal symptoms are far more prominent and also partly because they don’t want ti accept the fact that the allergy is going down in the lungs and causing asthma like symptoms.
Asthma is not an uncommon condition. Asthma is not a scary word. Asthma can be easily controlled. So if you have asthma like symptoms, don’t be an ostrich and put your head in the sand. Accept it ! Acceptance is the first and most important step towards relieving your symptoms and getting your asthma fully under control.
What is the meaning of FULL CONTROL ? What is “well controlled asthma” ? That is the topic of the next newsletter !