What Is Asthma?
Approximately 26 million Americans are affected by asthma. This chronic disease is related to the bronchial passages, or airways, that allow air to flow in and out of the lungs. When airways are continually irritated and inflamed, allergens and certain environmental conditions can trigger an “asthma attack.”
Symptoms of Asthma
Asthma makes breathing difficult. Sometimes referred to as bronchial asthma, this disease causes inflammation and narrowing of air passages leading to the lungs. The inability for air to flow in and out of the lungs makes breathing difficult. Episodes of severe symptoms are called asthma flare-ups or asthma attacks.
Wheezing, or a whistling sound when exhaling, is the most common symptom of asthma. People suffering with asthma may also experience:
• Chronic coughing
• Pain, tightness or heaviness in the chest area
• Shortness of breath; difficulty breathing
• Fatigue or tiredness
• Trouble eating and drinking
• Trouble sleeping as a result of constant coughing, wheezing or difficulty breathing
Causes of Asthma
The exact cause of asthma is unknown. Research has shown that the disease may develop at any age, but most commonly in people under the age of 40 years. A family history of asthma can mean increased risk of developing the disease.
Several known factors can cause the asthma sufferer to experience an episode or an asthma-attack. These factors are known as triggers. Some triggers may include:
• Allergens such as pollen, mold, house dust and pet dander
• Environmental situations including cold air or weather changes, smoke, fumes and pollution
• Physical activity or exercise
• Smoking
Increased aggravation of the affected area causes muscle bands surrounding airways to tighten. Even the slightest irritation can cause increased narrowing of the sensitive passages. Continued inflammation contributes to permanent damage to the lungs.
Obese people may experience worse asthma due to excessive tissue around the airways. This may be especially true during sleep when the relaxed tongue contributes to airway blockage.
Asthma Treatments
If a person suspects that they are suffering from asthma, they should be examined by a pulmonologist, a doctor who can conduct tests to determine if the disease is present. If the diagnosis is asthma, a plan can be formulated to address risk factors known to cause symptoms. The doctor may prescribe the use of medications to prevent an asthma attack or inhalers meant to facilitate breathing in the event of an attack. Controlling or avoiding known risk factors and triggers can help the sufferer manage the possibility of an asthma attack.
Diet for Asthma
There are no specific foods known to reduce airway inflammation. In other words, there is no special diet for asthma. More research is needed to determine if certain foods may have an effect on asthma. Consumption of particular foods should be avoided if the asthma sufferer is allergic to it, as an allergic reaction can trigger symptoms. A healthy diet, however, should be part of the plan for asthma management.
Maintaining a healthy weight will reduce extra fat around air passages. Ongoing research indicates that people who eat antioxidant rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, have lower rates of asthma. These foods are known to protect cells in the body. People with poor nutrition are less likely to have the best possible organ function, including the lungs.
While researchers continue to discover more information about the causes of and treatments for asthma, sufferers must take responsibility for managing the condition on a daily basis. Lifestyle changes may be needed control excessive weight and maintain a strong body. People who have asthma should educate themselves about this chronic disease. Knowledge is power.