Asthma is an ancient Greek word meaning “panting or short- drawn breath.” It is the most troublesome of the respiratory diseases. The asthma patient gets frequent attacks of breathlessness in between which he is completely normal.
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Patients suffering from asthma appear to be gasping for breath. Actually, they have more trouble exhaling than inhaling because the air passages of the small bronchi become clogged and constricted with mucus, thus making it difficult for the patient to breathe out. All asthmatics have more difficulty at night, especially during sleep.
The onset of asthma is either gradual or abrupt. Sudden onsets are often preceded by a spell of coughing which may be associated with itching of the chin, the back of the neck or chest. When the onset is gradual, the attack is usually brought on by respiratory infection.
A severe attack causes an increase in heartbeat and respiratory rates and the patient feels restless and fatigued. There may be coughing, tightness inthe chest, profuse sweating and vomiting. There may also be abdominal pain, especially if coughing is severe. Foggy weather aggravates the symptoms.
An asthmatic attack begins when the bronchial tubes in the lungs become constricted. The tubes having become narrow, the inhaled air becomes trapped in the tiny air sacs at the end of the tubes, making the release of breath difficult. The wheezing sound identified with asthma is produced by the air being pushed through the narrowed bronchi.
Mainly bronchial in its symptoms, asthma is caused by a variety of factors. For many it is an allergic condition resulting from the reaction of the system to the weather, food, drugs, perfumes and other irritants which vary with different individuals. Allergies to dust are the most common.
Some persons are sensitive to the various forms of dust like cotton dust, wheat dust and paper dust, some pollens, animal hair, fungi and insects, especially cockroaches. Foods which generally cause allergic reactions are wheat, eggs, milk, chocolates, beans, potato, pork and beef.
For others, asthma may result from the abnormal body chemistry involving the system’s enzymes or a defect in muscular action within the lungs. Quite often, however, asthma is precipitated by a combination of allergic and non- allergic factors including emotional tension, air pollution, infections and hereditary factors. It has been estimated that when both parents have asthma or hay fever, in 75 to 100 per cent cases, the offspring also has allergic reactions.
Modern medical system has not been able to find a cure for this crippling disease. Drugs and vaccines have only limited value in alleviating symptoms. Most of these are habit forming and the dose has to be increased from time to time to give the same amount of relief.
The frequent introduction of drugs in the system, while giving only temporary relief, tends to make asthma chronic and incurable. Allergy – which is the immediate cause of asthma – itself is an indication of lowered resistance and internal disharmony caused by faulty eating and bad habits.