When you consider that the word "asthma" comes from a Greek term that means "panting," you get a pretty good picture of what happens to the 20 million Americans who live with the condition.
Asthma is a chronic, episodic affliction that obstructs lung passageways and robs the victim of oxygen. Attacks usually occur when a sufferer encounters something that causes an allergic reaction, constricting airways in the lungs. Other victims attacks follow exercise, or may be caused by psychological stress.
Breathing becomes difficult. The victim may wheeze. If the attack is serious enough, it can cut off the flow of adequate oxygen to vital organs. In severe cases, patients can die as do some 5,000 people a year in the United States.
Treatment involves intervention to encourage attacks to subside as quickly as possible. Asthma patients often carry inhalable medicines known as bronchodilators or corticosteriods for this purpose.
Patients can also learn to identify "triggers" that set off an asthma attack, or episode. This varies by individual. Molds and dust (along with dust mites) are common triggers, as are feathers, cold air, cockroaches, pet dander and cigarette smoke. Doctors can use blood and skin tests to determine the patients susceptibility to asthma.
The role of air pollution in exacerbating asthma attacks has been demonstrated in a number of studies in recent years.
Asthma appears to be on the rise. Some people theorize that air pollution is the cause, but in general, air quality has been improving over the last few decades. However, asthma rates are higher near routes heavily traveled by diesel-burning trucks.
Another notion popular among researchers is that as modern society has grown more hygienic, our immune systems have faced increasingly fewer challenges as children. So when an irritant appears, the asthma sufferers immune system overreacts. Children on farms suffer lower than average asthma rates; could it be they are more likely to be exposed to something early on in life that makes asthma less likely?
Researchers say its likely a variety of causes are behind asthma and its increase.
The American Lung Association and other environmental health advocates call for stricter federal standards on air pollution to protect asthma sufferers. Many call for strict national standards on particulate matter, or soot, and ozone, which is the main ingredient in smog.
For more info:
* See celebrities who live with asthma and get tips here: "www.teenasthma.ca/celebswithasthma.jsp
Study shows lower asthma rates among farm children:http://healthlink.mcw.edu/article/1031002434.html
* Find helpful asthma basics here:www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Asthma/Asthma_WhatIs.html
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