Asthma Basics

Asthma is a disorder affecting the airways of the lungs. In response to certain triggers the mucous membranes of the lungs of a patient swell up causing the bronchial tubes to go into spasm.

This makes breathing difficult. The muscles may tighten up and excessive mucus may be produced resulting in shortness of breath and wheezing.

Unlike other respiratory conditions such as chronic bronchitis and obstructive pulmonary disease, the inflammation caused by asthma is reversible and generally responds well to medication.

There are basically two types of asthma:

1. Intrinsic - occurring as a result of an infection or later in life.

2. Extrinsic - caused by allergies.

Common allergens include several food types which can result in an immediate asthmatic response. These include seafoods, nuts and eggs.

While other foods such as wheat, chocolate and certain food coloring and additives may result in a delayed response. Asthma may also be triggered by allergy to dust mites, pollen, dust, insect sprays or other pollutants.

The degree of severity of asthma varies widely, with some patients suffering only occasional symptoms while others may have a constant underlying level of inflammation and consequent impairment of breathing.

Symptoms of chronic underlying asthma could include shortness of breath during exercise, chronic cough and the constant urge to clear one's throat, tightness of chest and wheezing. Exacerbation of asthma could lead to what is commonly known as an asthma attack.

In this case the patient experiences shortness of breath even during rest, rapid heart beat, wheezing and chest constriction, rhonchous or noisy breathing and coughing. Depending on severity of the attack air intake be may be so restricted that the patient may turn blue and even lose consciousness.

Information about causes and the development of asthma is far from complete. However, studies seem to suggest that it is closely linked with the body's immune responses.

Incidence is known to vary significantly between racial groups, affluent and poorer areas of the world and also based on environmental factors etc. Studies have shown links with the following:

Exposure to tobacco smoke appears to be associated with higher incidence of asthma

Children born via caesarian section appear to have significantly higher levels of asthma than those born by vaginal delivery. It is thought that this is due to different levels of bacterial exposure during delivery and it's impact on development of the immune system.

High levels of environmental pollutants have also been linked to higher incidence.

Stress has long been suspected of triggering asthma. It is hypothesized that stress may affect the functioning of the immune system and therefore indirectly influence the incidence of asthma.

Regular exposure to antibiotics especially at an early age as well as growing up in an excessively hygienic environment, in other words not being exposed to the usual childhood respiratory infections etc may actually leave the immune system compromised and lead to greater likelihood of developing asthma.

On the other hand evidence suggests that children who grow up in larger families and are exposed to the usual childhood illnesses are more resilient when it comes to keeping asthma at bay.

Treatment and control of asthma may involve several approaches encompassing lifestyle changes, medication and dietary changes and could include:

Eliminating or reducing exposure to the trigger factors in the the environment or diet.

Giving up smoking and avoiding exposure to second hand smoke.

Reducing or eliminating dairy products from diet as dairy products promote the production of mucus.

Medication including short term or long term Bronchodilators may be used to combat bronchospasms associated with asthma.

A good nutrition program will. in many cases. allow the body to withstand pressures of pollens and dust and other trigger factors that bring on allergic athsma reactions.

Vitamin C and Cod liver oil may also be used to reduce severity of reactions and inflammation.

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