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The ancient Greeks were the first to recognise asthma as a breathing disorder and gave the disease its name. It means “panting” and is a condition that can strike people at any age.

Doctors describe asthma as an inflammation of the small airways in the lungs. During an asthma attack three things occur: bronchospasms, mucus production and inflammation. Attacks may happen suddenly, or over longer periods of time. In either case it’s imperative to be aware of the symptoms’ progression. Left undiagnosed or untreated asthma can produce severe respiratory distress, or even sudden death.

The most common symptoms are shortness of breath, chest tightness and wheezing. Other symptoms that might also occur are repeated coughing and feelings of anxiety caused by stress or even panic when breathing becomes impaired. These symptoms, however, don’t always lead to a diag-nosis of asthma. That’s why it’s important to see a doctor if one or more occur. The sooner the condition is diagnosed and treated, the better.

There are two types of asthma. Extrinsic asthma has a known cause and is usually triggered by allergies to things like dust mites, pollens, certain kinds of grasses or weeds and pet hair.

Intrinsic asthma usually strikes adults at around age 30. It too, has identified causes. But exactly what they are is harder to pinpoint. Some triggers include infections, reaction to cold air, industrial or occupational pollutants like smoke, nitrous oxide, or minute dust particles from the manufacture of plastics or varnish, and even certain cleaning products. Fish or milk products may trigger attacks, as can certain food additives or preservatives. Stress and barometric fluctuations are also culprits.

Some sufferers experience “intermittent asthma” where symptoms may last only a few days and then disappear for weeks, months, sometimes years before flaring up again. Those with “chronic asthma” must deal with symptoms for longer periods of time and their lungs never really recover between attacks. This is another good reason to have asthma diagnosed early so that when symptoms strike, they’re recognised and treated.

Unfortunately there is no cure for asthma and the disease is on the rise. The numbers of new cases have jumped dramatically in the last ten years. Reasons attributed to this upswing vary: better awareness of the disease and its many forms, faster diagnosis by doctors, increased air pollution and usage of certain food additives. There is even evidence that asthma may be genetic.

Researching this breathing disorder continues.
For people who have asthma the best course of action is to learn as much about the condition as possible, to always ask questions and to work closely with their physicians to monitor asthma symptoms and keep attacks under control. It’s even more important to remember that most people who have asthma CAN lead an active and long life.