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Asthma

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What is asthma?

Let us first understand what is asthma? It is a disease of the airways, the tubes of the lung through which we breathe. Asthma causes narrowing of these breathing tubes and so the patient has difficulty in breathing. Usually the patient can hear a wheezing or a whistling sound in the breathing and may also have cough. Typically, the symptoms of asthma come and go, with periods of no symptoms called “remission” that may vary from a few days to weeks or months. When symptoms occur, and especially when severe, these are called asthma “attacks”. Some patients may have no remissions with daily symptoms interfering with their routines.

Usually the symptoms are triggered by exposure to irritants, dust, polluted air, strong smells, allergy, viral infections like cold, and sometimes by exercise and use of certain pain-killers. Symptoms occur at any time but are usually more severe or common at night or in early morning, and worsen with change of seasons. Sneezing and a watery running nose are common. The symptoms may be mild or very severe, sometimes requiring emergency treatment, hospitalization and even ventilator support in an ICU. Fever or blood in sputum do not occur in uncomplicated asthma. If a patient notices these, then it requires investigation as these may signify a complication or another disease.

How is asthma diagnosed?

Asthma is diagnosed mainly by above symptoms but should be confirmed by a lung function test called “spirometry” . This test involves blowing into a machine to find out if the airways are narrowed. Spirometry also tells us how bad asthma is.

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