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Asthma: Possible Triggers and How to Control Them

Asthma is a chronic long-term non-communicable disease that affects both children and adults. It is characterized by marked mucosal inflammation and narrowing/constriction of the smooth muscles of the bronchus along with excessive mucous production. All of this results in incessant coughing, breathlessness, difficulty in breathing, chest tightness, wheezing sounds during breathing, and associated nasal symptoms such as runny nose/ blocked nose.

It is one of the causes of chronic cough. Asthma is fairly prevalent in India and can occur at any age. Pulmonary function tests (PFT) measure the airflow into and out of the lungs and therefore, can be helpful for patients with asthma.

Asthma is often under-diagnosed and under-treated, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. People with under-treated asthma can suffer sleep disturbance, tiredness during the day, and poor concentration. Asthma sufferers and their families may miss school and work which can a financial impact on the family and wider community. If symptoms are severe, people with asthma may need emergency health care and they may be admitted to the hospital for treatment and monitoring. In the most severe cases, asthma can lead to death.

With the evolution of scientific knowledge, several mechanisms have been proposed as to what causes asthma. As a result, effective treatments for this health condition are available. However, the effective management of asthma largely depends on identifying the underlying trigger.

What triggers Asthma?

  • Air pollution from charcoal grills, open fires, chemical fumes such as that gasoline and paints, and other sources
  • Food ingredients- chemicals in foods and food additives, soy, eggs, shrimp, cow milk, fish, wheat, and certain fruits, sulfites in vegetables
  • Exposure to dust and allergens like tree and grass pollen, molds, pet dander, dust mites, and pests such as cockroaches, animal feathers, and furs
  • Exposure to strong scents such as perfumes, soaps, and strong odors
  • Changes in weather or climatic conditions, such as a drop in temperature, rise in altitude, or change in humidity levels,
  • Presence of other respiratory comorbid conditions such as sinusitis, bronchitis, flu, pneumonia, common cold and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections, rhinitis (hay fever)
  • Exposure to smoking and occupational dust
  • Medications such as aspirin, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) Ibuprofen, Diclofenac, blood pressure medicines (Beta-blockers)
  • Stress
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Genetics
  • Financial problems leading to non-compliance with treatment
  • Obese or overweight children are at a greater risk of asthma
  • Strenuous exercise (exercise-induced asthma)- the effect of exercise on asthma is acute and usually subsides within an hour.
  • Hormonal fluctuations such as fluctuations of melatonin/sleeping hormone prescribed to treat insomnia, exacerbates bronchial constriction, the pathway that moves air to and from your lungs. (Nocturnal asthma), Menstrual hormones
  • Other conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can trigger the gagging reflex
  • Emotional outbursts and persistent emotional stress or discomfort- intense anger, excitement, crying, or laughter 

What you can do to avoid the triggers?

  • Keep your home clean from dust and dirt.
  • Avoid pets at home.
  • Avoid first-hand and passive smoking.
  • Wear a mask to avoid exposure to pollutants.
  • Maintain good personal hygiene by washing your hands regularly.
  • Do not use harsh chemical cleaners, sprays, powders, perfumes, or other products with a strong fragrance. Vacuum cleaners and mops can be used for housecleaning.
  • Try using a humidifier at home so you can breathe freely. Have the ‘rescue pack or emergency/SOS medications handy to treat flare-ups and exacerbations.
  • Perform exercises of moderate-intensity
  • Regular follow-ups with your doctor who may prescribe medications such as bronchodilators, inhalers, anti-allergic tablets, or steroids, depending on the severity of the condition, to adjust your medication doses.
  • Prompt diagnosis and treatment of pulmonary infections. Do not allow upper respiratory tract infections to complicate lower respiratory infections.
  • Pneumonia and flu vaccination
  • Compliance with treatment
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle with the consumption of a well-balanced diet and regular physical activity

Patients often forget that asthma is a treatable disease, not a curable one. Once patients start feeling better, they tend to stop using medication which commonly results in an asthma attack. The importance of medication and medication compliance with regular follow-up visits with your doctor are paramount in asthma management.

Author:

 Dr. Pooja Toshniwal Paharia is a Consultant Oral and Maxillofacial Physician and Radiologist, M.DS (Oral Medicine and Radiology) from Mumbai. She strongly believes in evidence-based radiodiagnosis and therapeutic regimens for benign, potentially malignant, or malignant lesions and conditions either arising from the oral and maxillofacial structures or manifesting in the associated regions.

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