What is asthma?
Asthma is a condition that affects the airways (windpipes). The symptoms occur when the airways get narrower over time because of various factors.
Whom does it affect?
Asthma can affect anyone and can run in families. It most commonly starts in childhood.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms can range from mild to severe. Common symptoms are difficulty in breathing and wheezing (a high whistling sound the patient’s chest makes when she cannot breathe easily). The child may also complain of a cough and tightness in the chest. The symptoms are often worse at night or early in the morning.
What triggers an asthma attack?
There are several factors that can cause an asthma attack such as
- Dust mites in the house
- Smoking and cigarette fumes — this is one of the main triggers. Even if the parents smoke outside the house, smoke particles cling to their hair and clothes and can worsen the child’s symptoms.
- Other fumes and chemicals such as paints, solvents and pollution
- Certain emotions
- Allergies to animals
- Certain foods
Is there any test to confirm the diagnosis?
Asthma is a clinical diagnosis based on the patient’s history and a physical examination. However, in some situations, pulmonary function tests (PFTs) or peak flow can aid the diagnosis. Please ask your doctor for details.
What are the treatments for asthma?
For most people, the symptoms can be prevented with the appropriate use of medicines. Inhalers are the best way to treat asthma. They deliver a small quantity of the medicines to the airways and lungs directly. There are different types of inhalers.
These inhalers are used to ease the symptoms. They make the airways open wider and are called bronchodilators.
These inhalers should be used every day to prevent the symptoms from developing. The medicine used in this kind of inhaler is a steroid.
Is asthma completely curable?While there is no permanent cure, more than half the children with asthma grow out of it by the time they are adults. The good news is that most asthma patients can be symptom-free if they take their medicines regularly, as advised by the doctors.
If your child has asthma, you can’t wish it away. But, knowing more about the condition and how to tackle it can make it easier for you to deal with it.
Dr Ayesha Shahnaz is a Consultant Paediatric Pulmonologist at Apollo Children’s Hospitals, Chennai.