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Unravelling the Basics of Asthma - Causes, Types, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

More than 42% of all worldwide deaths due to Asthma occur in India.

There is no debate over the fact that the increasing air pollution in India is cutting our lives short. And one major culprit that is accelerating the process is Bronchial Asthma.

If Global Burden of Disease (GBD) studies are to be believed, India is home to 30 million plus Asthma patients. On top of that, Global Asthma Network (GAN) feels 70% of those with severe Asthma go undiagnosed. Now, the reasons behind that are diverse. From a lack of awareness and illiteracy to failing to take Asthma inhalers on time. Then, of course, there’s the social stigma factor.

But one thing is for sure. If we don’t act fast, we are not only destroying our lives alone. But are also making the path difficult for future generations. As it stands the prevalence of Asthma disease in children ranges from 2% to 18.2%. It depends on the state/city they are coming from.

With the constant cutting of trees and spikes in the number of vehicles, the figures are most likely to grow. So, before there is unmanageable ruin, let’s get more proactive about Asthma.

Asthma Definition

Also known as Bronchial Asthma, Asthma is a condition that affects your lungs. In a normal breathing scenario, your airways are relaxed. Allowing air to travel smoothly and silently. But in Asthma, those airways tighten, swell, and produce extra mucus. All of which contribute to difficulty in breathing in the affected individual.

Asthma Causes and Types

Asthma is an inflammatory lung condition. But the disease can be classified into different types as per the causal factors:

  1. Allergic Asthma- It is caused by environmental allergens like:

  • Pollen

  • Dust mites

  • Pet dander

  • Air irritants (chemical fumes, tobacco smoke)

  • Food (milk, nuts)

  • Perfumes

  • Molds

  1. Nonallergic Asthma - This usually occurs after the age of 40. Potential causes include:

  • Cold

  • Stress

  • Pollution

  • Respiratory infections (sinus, flu)

  1. Seasonal Asthma - This occurs only at a specific time of the year. Like during winters when cold viruses are on a high. Or during hay fever times when there is too much pollen in the air.

  2. Occupational Asthma - Here the Asthma symptoms worsen at the workplace. The exposure to the following can be blamed:

  • Paint

  • Chemicals

  • Insecticides

  • Aerosols

  1. Exercise-induced Asthma - This happens after exercise sessions. Potential triggers include chlorinated pools, warm air during hot yoga, and so on.

  2. Nocturnal Asthma - They worsen at night. While heartburn and dust mites can stir up the situation, it may also be a result of the sleep cycle of your body.

  3. Severe Asthma - This long-lasting type of Asthma can have all the above causes. The standard Asthma medications may not work. Thereby leading to frequent hospitalization.

Note: I have been asked several times which Asthma is worst. Well, it is this severe persistent type that is the most harmful. This is because patients have to live with mild to moderate symptoms almost every time. Causing major restrictions in daily activities.

Among other Asthma causes, Obesity and family history also play a role in the development. To add to the list, even certain drugs like aspirin may trigger Asthma signs in some patients.

Common Asthma Symptoms

For some, Asthma disease is a minor hindrance. But for many, it can be a cause of constant struggle enough to disrupt their daily peace.

Here are the common Asthma symptoms you should look out for.

  • Wheezing

  • Coughing

  • Tightness in chest

  • Breathing difficulties

  • Feeling of anxiety

  • Fatigue

  • Pain in the chest

  • Quick breathing

  • Infections on a frequent basis

  • Trouble sleeping

How to Treat Asthma?

The severity of the condition is a determining factor behind Asthma treatment. Meaning the doctor will consider which of the following you have:

  • Intermittent - Here symptoms are mild and last 2 days or less per week or month.

  • Mild persistent- Symptoms are mild but happen more than twice weekly but not regularly.

  • Moderate persistent - The signs are moderate and may happen daily.

  • Severe persistent - This is an extreme case and can take place several times a day.

The physician also takes into account the type of Asthma, your age, and your trigger points.

Coming to Asthma cure, they can be divided into various categories.

Quick Relief Treatment

This treatment is used when the individual is undergoing an Asthma attack. Just as the name suggests, they provide quick comfort.

  1. Bronchodilators - They ease the tight airway muscles and reduce the signs in minutes. Asthma inhalers or nebulizers are the most common means to take them.

  2. First-Aid treatment - This involves helping a person having an attack with their rescue inhaler. The dosage and number of puffs required vary as per the medication and severity of the condition.

Long-term Control Drugs

These Asthma medications are taken regularly to keep a check on the symptoms. But they do not offer immediate relief.

  1. Anti-inflammatories - Drugs like Corticosteroids reduce inflammation and mucus production.

  2. Anticholinergics - They are taken with Anti-inflammatories and ease muscle tightening.

  3. Long-acting bronchodilators - These are often used with anti-inflammatory pills.


These are recommended in cases when standard inhaler therapy fails to work. Biologics aim for specific antibodies and hamper the path leading to inflammation.

Bronchial thermoplasty

This is a relatively new treatment. Hence is not widely available to the public yet. It involves heating the airways with an electrolyte. Thereby preventing the tightening of the muscles. The process may provide relief for up to 5 years.

Can Asthma be Cured?

Unfortunately, there is no permanent cure for Asthma. But you can prevent or reduce the frequency of Asthma attacks.

  • Quit smoking

  • Wear a mask to avoid inhaling potential allergens

  • Take flu vaccines on time

  • Practice breathing exercises daily

  • Don’t keep pets at home if you are allergic to their furs

  • Try to keep stress levels under control to avoid panic attacks

  • Maintain a healthy balanced diet to boost immunity

  • Be consistent with your Asthma treatment

  • Talk to a physician to spot allergies and accordingly act on them.

Final Thoughts - When to see a Doctor For Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic disorder that can rule over your life one day if left unchecked. The situation can even aggravate and get life-threatening. So, try to identify an emergency from the following signs:

  • Extreme breathing difficulty

  • Confused state of mind

  • Gasping for air

  • Difficulting in movement or talking

  • Dizziness

  • Pale/ blue lips and fingernails

For those who aren’t diagnosed with Asthma yet, consult a doctor if you face any discomfort related to breathing more than once. No matter how mild it seems. And if you are already under treatment, book appointments as per the advice of your physician.


The Author : Dr. Sunil Khattri

+91 9811618704

Dr. Sunil Khattri MBBS, MS(General Surgery), LLB, is a Medical doctor and is a practicing Advocate in the Supreme Court of India and National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, New Delhi.

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