If you have ever heard a loved one gasping for air or struggling to breathe, then there is a good possibility that they have asthma. Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that affects the lungs of millions of Americans each year. Although its symptoms can range from mild to moderate, many sufferers find that they can manage their condition with the use of a bronchodilator.

Risk Factors

In children, the disease is more likely to occur in boys than girls. In adults, more women than men have the condition. Although this disease can occur in anyone, there are quite a few risk factors that can increase your chances of developing it. These factors include:

  • Family history
  • Allergies, such as hay fever or atopic dermatitis
  • Exposure to certain environmental pollutions
  • Smoking
  • Bacterial or viral infections
  • Obesity

Not much information is currently available on why some people are more predisposed than others to develop the condition if they have no risk factors. However, it is suspected that exposure to second-hand smoke, environmental toxins and certain occupational hazards all contribute in some way or another towards a person’s susceptibility to asthma attacks.

Causes of Asthma

The exact cause of asthma is not known, but there are things that can trigger an episode. Asthma triggers vary from person to person but generally include the following:

  • Exposure to pollen, dander, mold and dust
  • Respiratory illnesses and infections
  • The use of certain beta blockers, over-the-counter pain killers and medications,
  • Hormone imbalance
  • Air that is too cold or warm
  • Poor Diet
  • Physical activity
  • Acid Reflux

Asthma symptoms vary from person to person. But there are some common symptoms that indicate that the disease is present. These symptoms are not limited to:

  • Pain, pressure or tightness in the chest
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing

Many people with asthma experience asthma attacks infrequently and only experience symptoms that occur as flare-ups. Others have situational based asthma in which their symptoms are more likely to occur during specific situations. Asthma attacks can also be triggered in the following ways:

Allergy-induced occurs when there has been an exposure to an offending allergen or pollutant.

Occupational-induced occurs when one is exposed to certain workplace hazards, chemicals and irritants.

Exercise-induced occurs when one is engaged in physical activity and breathing in air that is too cold or warm.

Some people experience anxiety-related asthma attacks that occur during periods of high stress and anxiety. When these flare-ups occur, the attacks can be minor and resolved by taking deep breaths to and calming down to eliminate the trigger. However, severe and anxiety-related asthma attacks can be life-threatening, and if the use of a bronchodilator or inhaler doesn’t help, immediate medical attention is required.

Living With Asthma

Depending on the severity of the disease, asthma can affect one’s overall quality of life. The symptoms can interfere with one’s ability to eat, sleep, exercise and engage in leisure activities. People that suffer from asthma often have to take more sick days from work that may affect their productivity and job security. Those who suffer from life-long asthma often experience a permanent reduction in the size of their airways that makes it even harder for them to breathe as they get older. Asthma sufferers also spend significantly more time in hospitals, emergency rooms and medical facilities.

Medications

Upon receiving a proper diagnosis, many asthma sufferers can manage their condition with the use of prescription medications. Bronchodilators (inhalers) are often prescribed because they help to open up the pathways and reduce swelling of the lungs. Other medications can be taken as pills and nebulizers. The medications used to control asthma symptoms fall into three categories – long-acting, quick-relief and allergy suppressant.

Commonly prescribed quick-relief medications include short-acting betas, oral, inhalant and intravenous corticosteroids. These medications can be taken as needed and are used to provide immediate short-term relief to prevent a full-blown asthma attack.

Long-acting medications typically include inhalant corticosteroids, long-acting beta-agonists (LABAs), and inhalers that contain a combination of corticosteroids and LABAs. These medications should be taken on a regular basis, even when there are no symptoms to manage the condition and provide relief from asthma attacks.

Common allergy suppressant medications that are used for asthma treatments include immunotherapy allergy shots. These medications need to be taken on a regular basis to increase resistance to asthma allergy induced triggers.

Natural Supplements

Many asthma sufferers find that they can manage their condition naturally with supplements and lifestyle changes. People with asthma that can reduce or eliminate their need for medications experience fewer side effects. Popular supplements that have proven beneficial to asthma sufferers include:

Antioxidants have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce and prevent inflammation of the lungs. During an asthma attack, the lung tissue swells causing the pathways to constrict making it harder for asthma sufferers to breathe normally. Antioxidants can be found in many foods, especially in fruits and vegetables. Antioxidant supplements can also be purchased for asthma patients that want to increase their antioxidant intake.

Fish Oils are high in omega 3-fatty acids. This nutrient is very effective in boosting immune system health and response. Asthma patients that consume large amounts of fish oils or take them in supplement form can prevent their airways from constricting and reduce their need for asthma medications.

Magnesium has been proven to be effective in the treatment of asthma. People with this condition often have a magnesium deficiency. Magnesium helps to keep the smooth muscle tissue in the lungs relaxed which can help to increase lung capacity and function.

Vitamin D is a nutrient that has shown much promise in the battle against asthma. Many sufferers do not have enough vitamin D in their bodies. Vitamin D reduces inflammation and can significantly improve the health and function of the lungs. Vitamin D also helps to build up the body’s natural defenses against allergies and infections that can also prevent asthma attacks. Although the body produces vitamin D when it is exposed to the sun, many asthma sufferers do not spend much time outdoors. People with asthma can increase the amount of vitamin D in their body by increasing their consumption of dairy products and vitamin D supplements.

Having asthma is not a death sentence. In fact, many people who suffer from this condition can significantly improve the overall quality of their lives and the health of their lungs with the use of medications and supplements.