Asthma is a disease characterized by chronic inflammation of the airways that causes air restriction, with variable narrowing of the bronchi and symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing during exhalation, shortness of breath mainly during exercise but also a feeling of heaviness or tightness in the chest .
It is a relatively common disease worldwide, with significant differences between countries, with some countries presenting patients in up to 20% of their population. It is estimated that 358 million people suffer from asthma worldwide, with the percentage in our country ranging from 8-9%.
It can appear at all ages in both sexes and is related to genetic predisposition, such as heredity and family history, but also environmental factors such as: smoking, inhaled pollutants, allergens, infections, exercise and stress. In children it is the most common chronic condition and occurs in 1 in 10 children, with a constantly increasing frequency worldwide.
What are the symptoms of asthma?
“It is characterized by symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, tightness or pain in the chest, as well as a cough that can sometimes be dry and sometimes productive. These symptoms may also be accompanied by production of sputum that causes difficulty sleeping due to coughing or wheezing.
These symptoms usually vary during the day and become more intense during the night or early in the morning, while they may last longer at certain moments of the day and subside automatically or require treatment”, points out Mr. Spyridon Gatzias Deputy Director Pulmonologist at Metropolitan Hospital.
How is asthma diagnosed?
Many patients fail to recognize that they have asthma mainly because of their chronic coexistence with it. Medically, this situation creates problems both for the patients and for the doctors themselves who face difficulties in evaluating the disease.
“The diagnosis is based on the patient’s history and is confirmed by paraclinical testing, which mainly includes spirometry, i.e. testing lung function and its response to bronchodilation. This is a simple but essential test that helps accurately measure the volume of air inhaled and exhaled over time.
In this way, the pulmonologist is able to know if the examinee has normal respiratory function or if there is an obstruction or restriction. At the same time, possible allergies are checked with skin or blood tests, as well as challenge or exercise tests”, explains the expert.
What factors trigger asthma?
“Many factors can trigger it, including dust, dander from certain animals such as dogs or cats, air pollution, smoking, pollen, mold, hot steam or cold air, stress, exercise and certain drugs such as aspirin but even viral or bacterial infections”, he says and continues: “It is especially important to consult our doctor when we need to take drugs for a condition, so that we do not have side effects from any drug interactions between their”.
What are the characteristics of uncontrolled asthma?
“Uncontrolled asthma is fortunately found in a small group of asthma patients. It is characterized by daily symptoms that are not satisfactorily controlled with the use of full treatment. In these cases, in addition to the palliative drugs that are inhaled bronchodilators, these patients are required to use disease regulators that are cortisone, both in the form of inhalations and orally in particularly high doses and despite everything continue to exhibit symptoms.
Now, there are new breakthrough methods that include drugs that belong to the category of biological agents and can significantly control the symptomatology,” he states.
What complications can uncontrolled asthma lead to?
“In cases where asthma cannot be controlled, in addition to worsening the symptoms mentioned above, it can cause further swelling of the airways that carry oxygen in and out of the lungs. As a result, the airways narrow and scar the lungs, which makes breathing difficult, so-called airway remodeling, which affects the effectiveness of the drugs used. In addition, patients with uncontrolled asthma are vulnerable to respiratory tract infections, such as pneumonia,” emphasizes the doctor.
What is the “key” to treating asthma?
“The ‘key’ to treatment is to approach the symptoms from the beginning by making a timely and correct diagnosis and planning with the doctor the appropriate and individualized treatment. Early treatment of symptoms ensures the best lung function with the minimum dose of medication. At the same time, it helps the patient to be properly informed and educated about the disease, so that he can ultimately maintain a normal life, presenting no or minimal symptoms during the day, without limiting his daily activities and symptoms at night, no or minimal need to receive palliative medicine and ultimately a normal respiratory function,” he says.
Is there a cure for asthma?
“Treatment includes drugs primarily inhaled, through devices appropriately selected by the doctor for each patient, that act directly on the target organ and are effective and safe when used according to medical instructions. Newer treatments with monoclonal antibodies and biological agents are aimed at patients with more severe asthma and aim, among other things, to reduce the need for corticosteroids,” he adds.
What time of year are the symptoms less severe?
“Summer, in general, is a good time for asthma patients because there are usually no atmospheric factors that can trigger it, but they should definitely watch out for infections, colds and large changes in cold-hot temperatures which they can trigger an asthma attack,” concludes Mr. Gatzias.
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