istock_000007583586xsmallAsthma is a condition characterized by recurrent attacks of dyspnea (difficulty breathing) because of narrowing of the airways. It is characterized by sneezing due to the constriction of the bronchi. It is a condition that affects nearly ten million people in the United States (2/3 adults). This condition is also known as bronchial asthma and attacks may occur in varing degrees. Asthma may be classified from occasional wheezing periods, to slight difficuly in breathing, to severe attacks that may cause suffocation. An attack that lasts several days is called Status Asthmaticus, and can be a fatal condition. Asthma has three classifications. Extrinsic (allergy to antigens) primarily affects children and young adults. Intrinsic or Nonallergic asthma (seconday to chronic bronchi, sinus, to nasal infections) may develop from virusus causing infections. Mixed asthma is due to a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic asthma. Of all types, only extrinsic has an inherited tendancy to occur.


This condition is characterized by difficulty in breathing and wheezing. Patients usually lean forward and sit in order to use all available respiratory muscles. The skin usually appears pale and moist with perspiration. A severe attack may show cyanosis (bluish discoloration) of the lips and nailbeds. Coughing may be dry in the early stages, but become more productive of thick, tenacious, or mucoid sputum.


Treatment begins with a determination of the allergens causing the attacks. Nonallergic asmatics should avoid infections and nonspecific irritants (ie. cigarette smoke). Drugs are usually used for treatment and relief of symptoms. It can be controlled by rest, relaxation, avoidance of causative factors, and individualized regimen. Also, bronchodilators (epinephrine and aminophylline) are used to enlarge bronchioles. Drugs that thin secretions may also be prescribed. A patient with status asthmaticus is very ill and must receive special medications and attention.

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