Fighting to breathe
A chronic condition of the lungs which affects both large and small airways, asthma can be triggered by almost anything. It has three characteristics: hyperreactivity or irritability of airways, inflammation, and airway obstruction. In asthmatic patients, air passages are extremely sensitive and hyper-responsive.
Darleth Romana-Bantiles, M.D., a school physician and medical researcher, says that while asthma shares triggers with the common allergy, like pollen and dust mites, it may also be exacerbated by viral infections like the respiratory syncitial virus (RSV) or parainfluenza virus. The narrowing of airways or bronchoconstriction results after exposure to inhaled allergens and other triggers: dust mites, pollens, molds, cockroach, cat or dog allergens, vegetable proteins, viral infection, cigarette smoke, air pollutants, odors, drugs, cold air and exercise. Upon exposure, certain chemicals that influence the behavior of air passages are activated. The resulting airway narrowing explains the classic manifestation of asthma: wheezing. Because air cannot move in and out of the lungs freely, a person may experience difficulty or increased rate of breathing, hyperinflation of the chest and use of accessory breathing muscles like those in the ribcage.
In some cases, airway obstruction can develop within a matter of seconds because of sudden muscle spasm in the large airways. When an individual is in severe respiratory distress, he or she may experience shortness of breath—with or without wheezing—manifested as difficulty in talking or walking. With the premature closure of airways, exhaling becomes so difficult and labored that one can sweat profusely and even develop low-grade fever from over-fatigue. Since airflow is restricted, lung collapse or atelectasis may result in some parts of the lungs. In instances when prolonged and severe asthmatic episodes don’t respond to medications that work to open the airways—status asthmaticus—asthma becomes life-threatening and is considered a medical emergency.
Dr. Romana-Bantiles emphasizes that the child should be brought to a pulmonologist or allergologist as soon as these symptoms are linked to physical activity: wheezing, shortness of breath, complaints of chest tightness or cough that is constant or intermittent. Repeated episodes of bronchitis and pneumonia are also red flags that lead to the early detection of asthma, possible control of triggers, and prevention of long-term or irreversible complications.
Fortifying the home vs. asthma
Based on the identified triggers, it would be easier to control or prevent asthma attacks in the future. Dr. Romana-Bantiles mentions practical adjustments that could be made at home to avoid asthma attacks: