What is bronchial asthma?

Bronchial asthma, commonly referred to as asthma, is a chronic respiratory diseasecharacterised by the inflammation of the airways of the lungs. A person suffering from asthma generally exhibits symptoms such as breathlessness, coughing, chest tightness and wheezing.According to the World Health Organization, there are around 15-20 million bronchial asthma patients in India.

As mentioned above, asthma is caused by inflamed airways. Swelling and muscle tightness can cause the airways to become narrow, thus limiting the supply of air to the lungs. This makes it hard for the person to breathe which eventually leads to an asthma attack.

What causes bronchial asthma?
There are a few triggers that can cause an asthma attack. These include:

  • Allergens such as pollens, dander, mould, dust
  • Irritants such as fumes, smoke, paint
  • Certain drugs
  • Cold air, dry weather
  • Stress
  • Exercise

Studies have shown that those having a family history of asthma or allergies are at a higher risk of developing asthma at a later stage in their life.Furthermore, a type of white blood cellknown as an Eosinophil isoften linked with inflammation and allergies. So the primary reasons for bronchial asthma can be shortlisted to:

  • Genetic factors
  • Allergies
  • An increased count of Eosinophils

 

What are the symptoms of asthma? What are the symptoms of asthma?

As discussed above, typical signs and symptoms of bronchial asthmainclude:

  • Abnormal breathing pattern such as shortness of breath or breathlessness which gets worse with exercise
  • Cough which can be with or without phlegm
  • Wheezing which is a whistling sound made while exhaling
  • Pain or tightness in chest

Bronchial asthma symptoms may vary from person to person and require to be evaluated independently by a specialist. If you are experiencing any of the above, visit your doctor right away.
It is also possible that a person may experience any of the above symptoms only in particular circumstances, which could unveil a specific type of asthma. Thanks to research undertaken by experts, these specific types of asthma can now be diagnosed, treated and hence controlled.

 

What are the different types of bronchial asthma?

  • Occupational asthma
    Known as work-related asthma, occupational asthma can be characterised by airway obstruction and inflammation that stems from exposure to irritants in the workplace. Common occupational asthma causesor triggers include fumes, adhesives, grains, dust, gases and so on.

A person may experience general symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath and chest tightness when exposed to such irritants. Also, the symptoms usually tend to disappear outside the workplace.
Occupations that are at a high risk of developing occupational asthma are drug manufacturers, cigarette makers, bakers, cement workers and so on. Treatment andmanagement of occupational asthmanecessitates reduced exposure to irritants that trigger your symptoms.Prevention of an occupational asthma attack requires steps such as giving up smoking, avoiding chemical fumes and staying away from allergens.

  • Allergic asthma

This is the most common type of asthma. Patients suffering from allergic asthma exhibit typical symptoms when exposed to allergens such as pet fur, dust, pollen, fragrances and so on. In case of allergic asthma, the airways are highly sensitive and contract when exposed to allergens. This leads to inflammation of airways which then get clogged with mucus. Allergic asthma symptoms may include wheezing, coughing and chest tightness amongst other asthmatic symptoms.
Allergic asthma treatment is similar to the treatment for bronchial asthma and includes using bronchodilators which can make breathing easier. Also, your doctor can prescribe a medicine for allergic asthmasuch as anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling of the airways. Further, the doctor may also recommend wearing a face mask while going out, keeping your bedding and kitchen clean and getting rid of mould.

  • Exercise induced asthma

Exercise induced asthma causes coughing, wheezing, fatigue and shortness of breathamongst others. This is because, while performing an exercise, a person usually inhales cool and dry air through his/her mouth. The airways are highly sensitive to changes in temperature and hence react by contracting. This can trigger typical symptoms like the ones mentioned above.
It is important to observe the frequency and severity of symptoms in order to establish an accurate diagnosis of exercise induced asthma. Your doctor will enquire about your medical history, the environmental conditions and specific details about the exercise. Treatments include using bronchodilators prior to exercise to prevent a flare up of symptoms.Your doctor may also recommend the best inhaler for exercise induced asthma to inhale the prescribed medication. Additionally, warming up before an exercise and relaxing after can also help preventsymptoms. 

  • Cough variant asthma

Cough variant asthma is usually characterised by coughing as the only symptom that can last for more than 8 weeks. The cough is dry and non-productive and people may or may not show any other asthma symptoms such as shortness of breath and chest pain amongst others. Coughing can be induced by exposure to triggers such as dust and perfumes and may worsen with exercise. Diagnosis becomes difficult since cough is the only symptom. The doctor may ask you about your medical history and perform tests such a Spirometry and chest x-rays. Once diagnosed, cough variant asthma treatment in adultsand children is treated in the same way as bronchial asthma.

  • Nocturnal asthma

People suffering from nocturnal asthma or night-time asthma often experience a worsening of symptoms during the night. Typical asthma symptoms such as difficulty in breathing, cough and chest tightness occur at night and make sleeping difficult. Nocturnal asthmacauses include contraction of airways during sleep, exposure to allergens, sinus infection, Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and air conditioning amongst others. A peak flow meter for diagnosisis usedto measure the peak flows while or before sleeping and awakening; a significant difference being indicative of nocturnal asthma. Treatment is similar to treatment of bronchial asthma and includes avoiding triggers to prevent the flare up of symptoms.

 

How do you diagnose bronchial asthma?

How do you diagnose bronchial asthma?

Once you know how to recognize bronchial asthma, you will be able to take note of the symptoms and talk about them to your doctor. Your doctor will then carry out a few tests and if diagnosed with asthma, you will be asked to follow a suitable treatment plan.
Your doctor may enquire about your family history, severity and frequency of symptoms and ask you to take a few bronchial asthma diagnostic tests.These include:

  • Lung function tests to estimate your breathing capacity
  • Chest X rays to rule out other diseases
  • Peak expiratory flow tests to measure how forcefully you exhale

 

How do you treat bronchial asthma?
If the results of the bronchial asthma tests point out to the possibility of asthma, your doctor will lay out an asthma action plan and prescribe suitable medication.

  • An asthma action plan includesinformation about daily medication, the frequency and time to take them and situations that call for immediate medical attention.
  • Bronchial asthma treatment medicationgenerally involves long term control and quick relief medication. Long term control medications include inhaled corticosteroids and long-acting beta agonists. These are to be taken regularly and work by reducing the swelling and open the airways, thus controlling the symptoms in the long term. Quick relief medication involves taking short acting beta agonists to provide instant relief during an asthma attack. Such medication can be inhaled using an inhaler/nebulizer.

Apart from this, your doctor may also advise avoiding triggers that can cause a flare up pf asthma symptoms. It is advisable to reduce your exposure to pollen or other allergens and keep your house clean of irritants such as dust and pet dander. Quit smoking and visit your doctor regularly for asthma check-ups.


The following bronchial asthma treatment guidelines can help you control asthma in an effective way:

  • Discuss your symptoms with your doctor honestly and clarify any doubts related to the asthma action plan
  • Always carry your inhaler
  • Keep medication handy and always purchase medication two or four days before you run out of it
  • Report any unusual reactions to your doctor

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