Breathe deep. Fill your lungs with air and exhale slowly. Relax and rejuvenate. You can’t? Do you have trouble catching your breath sometimes? What about wheezing and coughing, especially after exercise? If this happens to you, you could be experiencing warning signs of asthma. Other signs are frequent shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and labored or restricted breathing.
Over 10 million Americans are affected with asthma and it is one of the leading causes of school and work absences. Asthma is a respiratory condition, an airflow obstruction in the bronchial tubes. The exact cause of asthma remains a mystery and no known cure exists; however excellent treatment options are available to control and reverse this chronic obstruction of the air ways. People of any age, race, gen der, and background may suffer from asthma, but it is more likely found in children between the ages of two to 17. In young children, boys are almost twice as likely to develop asthma as girls are, but this sex difference disappears in older age groups.
PEOPLE OF ANY AGE, RACE, GENDER, AND BACKGROUND MAY SUFFER FROM ASTHMA, BUT IT IS MORE LIKELY FOUND IN CHILDREN BETWEEN THE AGES OF TWO TO 17.
Many different things may trigger an asthma attack. The most common “triggers” are allergens (sub stances to which susceptible individuals may become allergic), aspirin, tartrazine (yellow food dye #5), irritants, food additives and
preservatives, viral respiratory infections, and physical exertion. Common allergens which can cause not only an allergic reaction, but subsequently an asthma attack include plant pollen (i.e., trees, grass, weeds), animal dander, housedust mites, molds, and certain foods. When an allergic individual comes into contact with one of these allergens, a chemical (known as a mediator) is released in the body. The mediator then triggers asthma. In the case of aspirin and aspirin containing products, the reaction is not an allergic one. Asthmatics who take aspirin experience a decrease in lung function thus triggering an attack. Similar reactions can occur with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents and tartrazine, and asthmatics should avoid these products.
Irritants that can cause asthma attacks include: cold air, smoke, industrial chemicals, perfume, paint and gasoline fumes. These irritants can be found in the workplace and may be responsible for 5 to 10 per cent of asthma attacks. Occupational or work-related-asthma can be diagnosed by a physician (most likely an allergist) through very specific testing and would need to be proved; in other words, being exposed to work-related asthma does not necessarily mean you have occupational asthma.
You’re having an asthma attack. What’s happening to you? Your bronchial tubes narrow in response to any one or more of the above-mentioned triggers. During an attack, the narrowed breathing tubes and air passages restrict the airflow and exhaling becomes increasingly difficult. Air is trapped behind the narrowed bronchial tubes and decreased oxygen is available to the body. If the attack is mild, it may last only a few hours and resolve spontaneously or with medication. However, if the attack is severe, it could last days or even weeks. A severe attack can respond to medication, but hospitalization may be required. The allergist from whom you are seeking treatment will instruct you on what to do during an attack. The most commonly pre scribed drug in the treatment of asthma is a “bronchodilator.” A bronchodilator may be taken orally, injected, or inhaled and will relax the muscles surrounding the air ways and dilate the bronchial tubes, thus making breathing easier. Other drugs prescribed by allergists include long-acting theophylline’s, inhaled or oral beta agonists, cromolyn and inhaled or oral steroids. Immunotherapy (allergy shots) are prescribed for allergic asthmatics and increases a patient’s tolerance to the allergens that prompt asthma symptoms.
While there is no cure for asthma and children do not outgrow it (that is a myth), it is effectively treatable not only through medication, but through prevention. It is important for an asthmatic to know what conditions will lead to an attack and therefore avoid them whenever possible. Although asthma is not a psychological disorder, emotions can worsen asthma. Scientists have found that strong emotions can cause an asthmatic’s tubes to con strict and provoke or worsen an attack. Scientists have also found that asthmatics can suffer depression due to the physical limitations brought on by this respiratory condition. Physical exertion can induce an asthma attack when rapid breathing through the mouth occurs during exercise or sports. This exercise induced asthma occurs in over 70% of all asthmatics. However, an asthmatic is not barred from enjoying most competitive sports. By taking preventive measures an asthmatic can participate in both aerobic and non-aerobic activities, although all sports are not equally tolerated. Aerobic activity (including running) is more likely to provoke an asthma attack because it involves prolonged periods of breathing. Swimming, a nonaerobic activity, is well tolerated and exercise induced asthma can often be controlled with this sport. Asthma has much in common with allergies symptomatically although it is not the same thing. While asthma is an obstruction in the airflow in the bronchial tubes, allergies are just one of the factors that can trig- ger an asthma attack. Not all asthmatics have allergies and many people with allergies do not have asthma. Allergy patients have the dubious distinction of having super-efficient immune systems. That is, an allergy sufferers’ immune system will not only protect them from viral enemies, but also from many of the common allergens faced daily such as pollen, spores, mold, and certain foods. The allergy sufferers’ immune system is hyperactive in its battle with the enemy causing an unnecessary reaction (i.e. stopped- up nose, rash, asthmatic breathing) in its sufferer.
Like asthma, an allergy sufferer can be anyone. According to Russell Roby LL.B.,M.D., it is often passed from parent to child, generation to generation, Boys tend to develop allergies at a young age and outgrow them in their mid-teens, while girls don’t develop allergies until their mid-twenties or thirties and may not outgrow them at all. There are many symptoms to indicate allergies and many treatments available. Dr. Roby suggests as much exercise as possible, a balanced diet, a positive attitude, vitamins (if they help you), and medication. In the Vineland Pediatrics HomePage there are three basic types of treating allergies: avoidance, medication, and hypersensitization.
An allergy sufferer should prepare and control his environment and avoid exposure to offending agents. For example, a common allergy to dust may not be entirely avoidable, but the allergy-sufferer can prepare a dust-free environment in his home or bedroom the following way: remove wall-to-wall carpeting, stuffed furniture or animals, old books, newspapers and things stored in the closet. While there wouldn’t be an entire absence of dust, there wouldn’t be an accumulation of it either, thereby decreasing the allergy sufferers’ exposure to that offending agent.
Medication is an important form of therapy and is essential to the asthmatic. However, in most situations it only alleviates the symptoms of the sufferer without identifying the cause of the problem. The relief brought on by medication can be adequate to the patient and therefore no other treatment is necessary Hypersensitization also known as immunotherapy or “shots” is another form of therapy, Small amounts of allergens are injected into the allergy sufferer periodically to induce blocking antibodies. Again this is not a cure for allergies but rather an attempt to build up tolerance to the offending allergens or antigens, Reactions to immunotherapy are possible though not common. 5% of allergy sufferers cannot tolerate the injections at all due to sensitivity to the allergens. Another 10 to 12% aren’t necessarily improved on the injections. Severe reactions such as hives, difficulty breathing, dizziness, light headedness, or even passing out can occur within the first half-hour of the injection and up to 48 hours afterward. This reaction is rare, occurring in no more than one in five hundred thousand injections. It can be quickly reversed with an administration of Adrenaline (epinephrine). All injections including immunotherapy should be administered by a doctor or trained nurse. Immunotherapy has been found to be effective when administered on a year-round basis even if the allergies are seasonal.
With as many as 50 million Ameri cans afflicted with asthma, allergy related conditions, and hay fever, do you think you may be an allergy sufferer? Some of the more common symptoms of an allergy include: itching, burning skin, hives, nasal congestion, sneezing, dry throat, ringing in ears, blurring of vision, painful, watery eyes; respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and urinary problems; muscular problems, afflicted nervous system (headache), PMS, and hyperactivity. You may want to see your primary care physician first who will then refer you to an allergist if your symptoms appear to be allergy related. For instance, a headache is a common health com plaint among Americans proven by the countless over-the-counter pain relievers advertised and readily available. However, two types of headaches caused by allergies are sinus headaches and migraines. A third, more unusual type of headache, a cluster headache, can also be linked to allergic disease. A sinus headache develops because of sinus pain and swollen sinus membranes: allergic reactions to mold dust, pollens, and allergic foods can cause an obstruction in the sinus membrane. Some migraine sufferers actually may have food allergies; if the food or food additive causing the migraine is determined after careful evaluation and then removed the migraine sufferer may find relief without medication.
In addition to medications, therapy, and prevention, the asthma and allergy sufferers can benefit tremendously with exercise. While it will not cure these conditions, exercise can produce an overall feeling of wellbeing, both physically and psychologically. Work with your allergist on prescribing an exercise program with the necessary precautions included that will benefit you. Asthmatics and allergy sufferers no longer must compromise their quality of life. Breathe deep. Exhale slowly. Relax and enjoy!
THE INFORMATION FOR THIS ARTICLE WAS PROVIDED BY RUSSELL ROBY, LL.B..M.D. A.C.A.I.F.C.L.M. AND AMERICAN COLLEGE OF ALLERGY, ASTHMA & IMMUNOLOGY (ACAAL) MEMBERS GERALD KLEIN. M.D.. ROBERT H. ZIERING. M.D. AND VINEYARD HOMEPAGE.