Asthma is defined as being a chronic, inflammatory disease of the lung involving recurrent breathing difficulties. It is characterized by three specific airway problems: inflammation, obstruction, and hyper-responsiveness. A person with asthma will have episodes where the air passages in his or her lungs become very narrow, making breathing more difficult. Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, and pain when the person is attempting to breathe.
Asthma can resemble other respiratory difficulties such as emphysema, bronchitis, and lower respiratory infections. As a result, asthma is often under-diagnosed. To correctly diagnose and distinguish asthma from other respiratory disorders, physicians rely on a combination of medical history, physical examination, and laboratory tests, which may include the following: spirometery, peak flow monitoring (PFM), chest x-ray, blood tests, and allergy tests.
An asthma attack or episode can often be triggered by one or more of the following: allergens, respiratory infections, sinusitis, irritants, sensitivity to medications, exercise, gastroesophageal reflux, smoke, and emotional anxiety or stress. Steps can be taken by the person with asthma to avoid all these triggers.
Specific treatment for asthma is determined by the physician based on the following factors: the age, overall health, and medical history of the asthmatic patient; the extent of the disease; the tolerance of the patient for the medication and therapy regimen prescribed; the expectations on how the disease will progress; and the opinion and preference of the patient.
Overall, there are four aspects involvement in treating asthma. First, lung function must be measured to assess how severe the asthma is and to monitor the course of treatment. Second, medication therapy is used in order to reverse and prevent the airway from becoming narrowed and/or inflamed. Third, environmental control measures are used to eliminate factors that would trigger an asthma attack. Finally, the patient must be well educated on the disease and its management. This includes having a partnership between the patient, his or her family, and the physician. It must be remembered that asthma is a chronic disease that must be cared for at all times, not only when the patient has an asthma attack. Therefore, the patient must follow all medication regimens, as well as take all necessary steps to prevent an episode from occurring.