One of the most common causes of breathing problem is Asthma which is a chronic disease that affects the airways. Airways are tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. When you have asthma, your airways narrow, swell and produce extra mucus which can cause wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and trouble breathing, especially early in the morning and at night. For some people, asthma symptoms are a minor nuisance but for others, they’re a major problem that interferes with daily activities. If you have severe asthma, you may be at risk of a life-threatening asthma attack. The airways can close so much that your vital organs do not get enough oxygen. People can die from severe asthma attack.

It is not clear why some people get asthma and others don’t, but it’s probably due to a combination of environmental and genetic (inherited) factors. Asthma triggers are different from person to person. Common triggers include house dust mites, animal fur, pollen, tobacco smoke, exercise, cold air and chest infections.

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Asthma can’t be cured, but its symptoms can be controlled. Treatments include taking steps to avoid your particular asthma triggers, using long-term control medications to prevent flare-ups and using a quick relief inhaler to control symptoms once they start.

Diagnosing asthma can be difficult and in order to rule out other possible conditions, your doctor will do physical examination and ask you questions about your signs and symptoms and any other health problems. You may also be given lung function tests to determine how much air moves in and out as you breathe. Lung function tests are often done before and after taking a bronchodilator to open your airway. If your function improves with use of a bronchodilator, it’s likely you have asthma. Determining the severity level of your asthma will help your doctor choose the best treatment for you. Asthma severity changes over time, requiring adjustment to treatment.

Prevention and long-term control is the key to prevent asthma attacks. Treatment usually involves learning to recognize your triggers and taking steps to avoid them and tracking your breathing to make sure your daily asthma medications are keeping symptoms under control. In case of an asthma attack, you may need to use a quick-relief inhaler such as Salbutamol or Albuterol. Work with your doctor to create an asthma action plan for proper management and control of asthma. Don’t be shy and ask your doctor anything about your disease. You should have an active participation in treatment and management of your illness for better outcome.

Dr. Maria Teresa Catacutan
(Pulmonology, I.C.U. & Internal Medicine Specialist)
Bahrain Specialist Hospital