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Asthma is a chronic inflammation that affects the airways, which decreases the flow of air that enters and leaves the lungs. Symptoms appear differently in each patient and vary in frequency and severity. They consist of shortness of breath, chest oppression and cough, mainly during the night. Estimates show that there are more than 200 million people with asthma worldwide.
Asthma explained in first person
Professionals and patients explain how you live with the disease
A person with asthma can have a completely normal life as long as they follow the treatment strictly, and they understand how the inhaler works and use it properly.
It seems that people with asthma do not take their medication, which I can’t understand. If I don’t take my medication, I might not live, it’s as simple as that. So, prevention is taking your medication just like they tell you to, and when they tell you to.
Asthma is characterised by inflammation of the mucosa of the bronchi, which narrows them and makes the passage of air difficult. This is known as a bronchospasm.
The respiratory system
Asthma is a disease that affects the respiratory system. This system consists of the nasal fossa, the larynx, the trachea, and the alveoli, where the gas exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide with the blood takes place. The trachea branches into the main bronchi that, in turn, branch into the lower calibre bronchi, called bronchioles.
Asthma mainly affects the bronchi and the bronchioles that are used to drive the air in and out of the lungs (inhaling and exhaling). What happens in asthma is that the walls of the bronchi are inflamed and become swollen, there is a higher production of mucous, which is viscous and difficult to eliminate, and the muscle that surrounds the walls of the bronchi contracts making the lumen is narrow and breathing difficult.
The nose and the paranasal sinuses are also affected in some asthmatic patients, which are known as rhinitis and sinusitis, respectively.
How many people are affected?
Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases at a world level. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that there are 235 million people all over the world with asthma. Its prevalence is notably elevated in urbanised regions, associated with environmental changes and lifestyles. In Spain, it affects 5% of the adult population and up to 10% of the child population, taking into account that around 50% of the patients are still not diagnosed.
Types of Asthma
The respiratory inflammation can be classified depending on the triggering factors:
Allergic asthma. It occurs in association with the exposure to allergic substances that are in the environment (pneumo-allergens), such as pollen, dust mites, animal hairs, and fungi, among others. Depending on the type of allergen, the symptoms can appear in determined seasons of the year.
Non-allergic asthma. It is not related to allergies, and the symptoms can appear with sudden changes in temperature, as viral or bacterial respiratory infections, or exposure to irritant substances.
Asthma induced by exercise. The symptoms appear while performing physical exercise or just after finishing the activity.
Occupational asthma. The symptoms appear due to the exposure of substances common to the work place (such as sawdust, flours, metals, plastic resins, among others.)
Depending on the frequency and severity of the symptoms, it can be classified into:
intermittent asthma and
persistent asthma. The latter may be mild, moderate, or severe.
Depending on the level of control of the symptoms under treatment, it can be classified as:
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Substantiated information by:
Alejandra Lopez GiraldoPneumologistPneumology and Allergy Department
Antonio Valero SantiagoAllergistPneumology and Allergy Department
Irina BoboleaAllergistPneumology and Allergy Department
Rosa Cortés AguilarNursePneumology and Allergy Department
Published: 20 February 2018
Updated: 20 February 2018
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