Keep asthma under control for better life

2017-07-12 06:02
Pictured is a tightened smooth muscle during an ashma attack where the inside of the airways swell, airway muscle spasms occur and mucous builds up (top right picture). In the bottom picture is the relaxed, smooth muscle. Photo: Google

Pictured is a tightened smooth muscle during an ashma attack where the inside of the airways swell, airway muscle spasms occur and mucous builds up (top right picture). In the bottom picture is the relaxed, smooth muscle. Photo: Google

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It is that time of the year again – winter, the season when parents tend to go through a difficult phase with their asthmatic children.

World Asthma Day was observed earlier this year on 2 May, when the National Asthma Educational Programme (NAEP) rallied around spreading awareness on asthma.

But the reality is that information is just as needed throughout the year due to the current living conditions, where everyone is exposed to environmental toxins like smoke, dust and more.

The NAEP highlighted the classic symptoms of asthma, identified as coughing, wheezing, tightness of the chest and increased effort during breathing, increased respiratory rate and inefficient gaseous exchange.

According to the NAEP, there are no conclusively proven reasons for asthma, nor obvious reasons as to why there is an increase of incidences.

Asthma episodes can be triggered by a variety of factors including pollen, cigarette smoke, mould, animals, cockroaches, dust, weather, exercise, respiratory infections and colds, emotions, strong smells and more.

Medical experts now also tend to believe that asthma is a psychosomatic disease, although they concede that stress can exacerbate the condition.

The question about genetics has also come into the spotlight, exploring the chances of having an asthmatic child being high if both parents are asthmatic.

“However, two non-asthmatic parents can easily have an asthmatic child, because the condition appears to be linked to the environment.

“If children are not being correctly diagnosed, it could mean that diagnosis might be missed, resulting in undertreatment and problems in later life,” explains the NAEP in a media statement.

The vast majority of asthma sufferers are reportedly undiagnosed, yet if they keep the condition under control, they can enjoy a better quality of life. However, they do not have to be inactive or incapacitated.

Wheezing during the first five years of life is, according to the NAEP, extremely common, as up to 50% of all children will experience at least one attack of wheezing during that time.

“This group of wheezing children have varying sym­p- toms and not all will go on to develop asthma.

“It can be very difficult to identify the small percentage of early wheezes that will go on to develop asthma.”

It further elaborates that there is now good evidence suggesting that wheezing with lower respiratory tract illnesses in the first three years of life has a good outcome, and that only about a third of these will still be wheezing at the age of nine years.

“On the other hand, we also know that more or less 60% of asthma symptoms start between six months and three years after birth. A small proportion have symptoms prior to six months of age and the rest in later life.”

As important as it is to identify an infant who has a predisposition for asthma, it can be very difficult at any age, as the doctor has to rely on certain known risk factors for early wheezing and asthma to try and identify the child that will go on to develop classic asthma.

The increase in the prevalence of allergies when a baby is born in a specific month of the year can also be attributed to early exposure to the prevailing allergen at that specific time.

About half of all asthmatics are reported to have evidence of allergy to aero-allergens, and there is increasing evidence that early exposure to inhaled allergens (house dust mites, moulds, cats, cockroaches, pollen) in the genetically predisposed infant may lead to asthma.

Risk factors for asthma

  • Risk factors may include personal characteristics (both inherited or acquired), or environmental characteristics.
  • With regards to age and gender, asthma can develop at any age and has to be considered in every child presenting with wheezing.
  • Males tend to predominate in the youngest age group; the genders are equally represented from age 12 to 14, with females predominating through the rest of the age range.
  • Family history also plays a role and asthma in a child is more likely if one parent has asthma, and even more likely if both parents have asthma. Identical twins are more likely than non-identical twins to both develop asthma.
  • Although some studies suggest racial differences in prevalence of asthma, socio-economic and environmental differences must be taken into account when conclusions are made in this regard.
  • Asthma is more common in urban areas, as compared to rural communities and in more affluent than in poorer communities, though the South African demographics are rapidly changing.
  • Inhalation of cigarette smoke during pregnancy has been linked with abnormal lung functions, airway hyper-reactivity and allergies in the newborn. Tobacco smoke is also an important trigger factor for asthma attacks.
  • Viral infections are important triggers for asthma attacks, thus it is recommended that people with asthma have a flu vaccine every year.

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