Understanding Asthma

 In Blog

With Allergy season upon us, many asthmatics notice a worsening of their symptoms meaning more frequent attacks and inhaler use. Asthma is a chronic obstructive respiratory disease characterized by episodic attacks of inflammation and narrowing of small airways in response to triggers. The triggers vary from person to person but can include environmental allergens, infections like the flu, exercise, abrupt weather changes, exposure to airway irritants like tobacco smoke and even emotional stress. If you are an asthma sufferer, than you are well versed in the symptoms, which include shortness of breath, cough with mucus production, wheezing, chest tightness and difficulty catching your breath.

Why is it that some individuals have a hyper-responsive reaction to triggers while others do not? Although there is no defined cause as to why some people are more asthma prone then others, it is generally accepted that asthma sufferers have an overactive immune system compared to their non-asthma suffering counterparts. To better understand this, it is important to discuss how the immune system plays a part in asthma symptomology. Immunoglobulin E (IgE), a type of antibody present in small amounts in the body, binds to allergens and stimulates the release of substances from mast cells. When IgE bind to mast cells, the allergic cascade begins causing the release of histamine and other substances. This leads to inflammation, bronchial constriction, mucus secretion and airway obstruction.

If these symptoms are left untreated, irreversible damage to lung tissue will occur and over time can make a patient refractory to treatment. The goal for asthma treatment is to have you be symptom free. Using your rescue inhaler (such as albuterol), more than two times per week during the day and more than two times per month during the night indicates that your asthma is NOT controlled. If this is the case, make an appointment with your physician so that you can benefit from treatment. Nighttime use of a rescue inhaler is more concerning than daytime use. Most treatments consist of an anti-histamine (such as Zyrtec), oral leukotriene receptor antagonist (such as singulair) and bronchodilator (such as albuterol). However, there are more intensive treatment protocols including inhaled steroids if other combination therapies are not enough. The best way to treat asthma is to prevent it by avoiding known triggers if possible or treating before reacting to a trigger. For example, if you are an allergy sufferer and know that your allergy season is approaching, be proactive and start therapy before you start suffering from the symptoms. Additionally, you may want to consider using a peak flow meter at home. A peak flow meter can help assess if your treatment regimen is working as well as determine if an asthma attack is approaching.

Asthmatic patients should have baseline studies done to assess any current damage to the lungs but also for comparison studies down the road. These studies include a chest xray, pulmonary function tests and a radioallergosorbent test  (RAST). A chest xray can help to identify remodeling or scar tissue within the lung or other fibrotic changes. Pulmonary function tests measure how efficiently the lungs inhale and exhale air as well as how well they oxygenate the blood. These are measured first without use of a bronchodilator such as albuterol, and if necessary, will be conducted after albuterol use. Last, the RAST looks to see IgE reactivity to environmental allergens.

If you want more information or would like to review your current treatment regimen please call Arizona Natural Medicine and schedule an appointment with one of our knowledgeable physicians. We can address your concerns and tailor a treatment that best serves you including both drug and supplement therapy.

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