Effect of Asthma on the Body

Effect of Asthma on the Body

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    A Nutrition & Dietetics, answered on behalf of
    When you have asthma, your airways are inflamed much of the time. This inflammation can make breathing difficult for three reasons:

    • The inside lining of the airways swells inward. This narrows the space inside your airways.

    • The muscles around the airways tighten. This tightening is called bronchospasm (or bronchoconstriction). Bronchospasm also narrows your airways.

    • Your airways produce more mucus. Excess mucus clogs the airways, narrowing the space for air to pass through.

    With your inflamed airways narrowed by swelling, bronchospasm, and excess mucus, air doesn’t move as easily into and out of your lungs. It can be like trying to breathe through a narrow straw -- you have to work extra hard to get air in and out.
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    A Emergency Medicine, answered on behalf of

    Although most asthma is controlled by medication taken at home, an asthma attack can be a life threatening breathing emergency requiring critical care. Asthma which is hard to control or even usually mild asthma can deteriorate into a severe attack of breathing difficulty requiring immediate emergency care, preferably via 911. Avoid delay in seeking treatment. A severe attack may need continuing critical care until it resolves.

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    If you have asthma, you might also be at greater risk for bone loss and osteoporosis. Corticosteroids, which are medications commonly used to treat asthma, are known to cause bone loss over time by hindering calcium absorption. People who use these medications should talk to their doctors about getting regular bone mineral density tests.

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    Asthma affects the body by limiting the flow of air into the lungs. When certain substances trigger an asthma attack, cholinergic receptors in the airways respond by tightening the muscles. This process is called bronchoconstriction. It triggers a sequence of reactions in the body, which contributes to increased inflammation and mucus secretions.

    An asthma attack -- or an asthma exacerbation -- can be very frightening. You may cough, have difficulty breathing, or feel a shortness of breath. As you breathe out, you may hear a wheezing or whistling sound which may go away if your airway becomes more constricted. Asthma attacks may result in people feeling fatigued and disoriented, and may even be life-threatening. If you see someone having an asthma attack and their skin begins to turn blue, you need to get them to the emergency room immediately. This is a sign that their oxygen supply is seriously depleted. With proper treatment, however, asthma is a reversible and manageable condition.
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    Doctor Examining Patient Lungs with Stethoscope
    Here’s another reason to fight air pollution in your neighborhood: Dirty air means more suicides.

    At least that’s the conclusion from a couple of new studies. NewScientist reports that Chang Soo Kim of Yonsei University in Seoul looked at more than 4,000 suicides from seven South Korean cities-linking them to measurements of PM10 — a.k.a. “airborne particles with a diameter of 10 micrometers or less, which include the soot from vehicle exhausts.” The findings were gloomy: Kim’s team found that suicides were more common in the two days following a spike in pollution. They considered PM10 measurements on a scale from the highest and lowest levels recorded, calculating that people were 9 percent more likely to kill themselves following a spike in pollution rising across the middle 50 percent of recorded values.
    Most people already know that air pollution is linked to higher asthma rates. Asthma is painful in and of itself, but a study from a team led by Ying-Chin Ko of Khaohsiung Medical University in Taiwan brings even sadder news for asthmatics: “The researchers show that suicides were more than twice as common among those with asthma, and the more severe their symptoms at the start of the study, the higher the risk.”

    What makes suicide rates go up when air pollution gets worse? Reports the New Scientist:

    Where air pollution is involved, the problem may not only be that as people’s physical symptoms worsen, they become more distressed. Kim suggests that PM10s may also cause nerve inflammation, affecting mental health through a direct biological mechanism.
    Doctor Examining Patient Lungs with Stethoscope
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    A Emergency Medicine, answered on behalf of

    Studies have shown that even at the stage of mild intermittent asthma during controlled stage the diameter of distal bronchi are narrower than normal subjects.

    Mucosal inflammation with damaged ciliated epithelium, hypertrophy of bronchial smooth muscles, subepithelial collagen deposition and increased mucus plugs narrowing airways due to impaired clearance are common lung pathologies in asthma patients.

    Although exact mechanisms are still debatable, narrowing of distal airways gets worsened with increased severity of asthma and sometimes leads to hyperinflation of lung and poorer response to conventional therapy and eventually steroid dependency and frequent exacerbations.

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    A , Allergy & Immunology, answered
    In the past, asthma was thought to be an entirely reversible process. Now it is recognized that with persistent asthma or hyperresponsive airways, the smooth muscles surrounding the air tubes not only grow thicker, the airway linings lose cilia, making them less able to filter incoming air, which spurs an increase in mast cells to fight allergens that previously were filtered out. Finally, the basement membrane underneath the mucosal layer becomes thicker and swells with many different kinds of cells.

    If this process persists untreated, the once-reversible airway obstruction becomes fixed and irreversible. That's why we, along with many other allergists, feel that inhaled steroids -- corticosteroids inhaled either as a powder or propelled under pressure -- should be started earlier than we once did. These medications control swelling, reduce mucus production, and make the airways less "twitchy," or sensitive to asthma triggers.

    The irreversible damage can be subtle. Patients may not suffer any obvious attacks -- the pot never or rarely boils over -- but tests can show that the amount of air moving in and out of the lungs gets lower with each passing year, depriving them of the oxygen their bodies need for maintenance and growth.

    A new method called bronchial thermoplasty may someday give us the ability to reverse some of the damage from airway remodeling. A bronchoscopically placed probe applies radio frequency to the walls of the central airway. The heat generated in this way reduces the muscle mass produced by years of extra exertion. As you can imagine, heat treatment causes some collateral effects, although so far these appear temporary, and the benefit seem to outweigh the damage. However, it will be years before this will be anything like a mainstream treatment. Regardless, preventing airway remodeling in the first place by carefully managing asthma is the best course.
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    A , Allergy & Immunology, answered
    In some cases, wheezing or other asthmatic symptoms may have a heart-related or cardiac component. If an underlying heart condition is suspected, the physician may recommend a test known as a cardiac ultrasound or echocardiogram. Usually performed by a heart specialist known as a cardiologist, this test is not invasive or painful and can be performed in less than half an hour. The test involves a vibrating device placed on the patient's chest that uses sound waves to create moving images of the heart and its chambers. The cardiologist can determine if the heart is functioning properly, or if abnormalities in its function are contributing to a patient's breathing symptoms.
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    Asthma can be deadly. About nine people die from asthma each day. In 2010, 3,404 people died from asthma. More women die from asthma than men. Black Americans are two to three times more likely to die from asthma than any other racial or ethnic group.

    (The presence of the CDC logo and CDC content on this page should not be construed to imply endorsement by the U.S. government of any commercial products or services, or to replace the advice of a medical professional. The mark “CDC” is licensed under authority of the PHS.)
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    Influenza, commonly called the flu, is caused by the influenza virus, which infects the respiratory tract (nose, throat, lungs). People with asthma are more likely to have serious health problems from getting the flu, yet most people with asthma don’t receive a flu shot every year.

    If you have asthma, you need to take steps to prevent getting the flu. Respiratory infections such as the flu can affect your lungs, causing an asthma attack. Flu vaccine is the first and most important step you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones from the flu.

    (The presence of the CDC logo and CDC content on this page should not be construed to imply endorsement by the U.S. government of any commercial products or services, or to replace the advice of a medical professional. The mark “CDC” is licensed under authority of the PHS.)