I would like to complement ailie for the awsome write-up of what asthma is. However there is one thing I would like to add: treatment.

Asthma is something that tends to be taken lightly, especially by school officials. However this is wrong, as an asthma attack can kill a person. If a person seeks you out when they are having trouble breathing, they have a reason to. Most asthmatics I know (and myself) are very self-reliant. They don't ask for help unless they need it, or might need it. If the person is wheezing, uses a fast acting inhaler, and doesn't improve, or gets worse, the next step is 911, unless they say otherwise. If the person has had the wind knocked out of them, help them up, give them something to lean on. They will lean hard, if you personally can't support the weight, don't let them lean on you. If they start hyperventilating, deep breathing is probably the best method for getting the attack under control.

Don't Panic
As corny as that sounds from a Douglas Adams generation, it will only make the attack worse
Remember, asthma is not just lungs constricting, it is depriving the brain of valuable oxygen. Many get extremely light-headed, dizzy, and disoriented when having an attack. You may, or may not, hear wheezing. Never, never, hug an asthmatic who is having an attack, or place any weight on them. When hugging a known asthmatic, if they start pushing out with their arms, or otherwise try to get away, let go -- they have a reason. If you can, take their backpack/purse off, but do it slowly -- remember, fast motions at a person can have bad effects if they can't think straight. Let them see where you place it, make eye contact with them. You can learn a lot about a person's train of thought when you can see their eyes, and they can read the same from you.

Have you ever tried breathing through a straw? This is what it feels like to have asthma. When you're going through a bad time, breathing is something that cannot be left unconscious, like blinking. It requires a conscious effort, and not having enough oxygen is still a constant annoyance.

When you have an asthma attack, you can't breathe. When you can't breathe, it's difficult to talk. Your sentence is blocked by the amount of air you are able to take out of your lungs. It isn't much, something between three to six words. It makes you respect the word. You go through the heap of words that come up in your head. Choosing the most important. And they too cost you. Unlike healthy people that take out all the words piled up in their heads like you take out garbage. When someone says "I love you" or "I really love you" during an attack, there's a difference. A difference of a word. A word means a lot, because a word could be "sit", "ventolin" or even "ambulance".

-Etgar Kerrett (hebrew)

Excellent writeups by all, but I would like to add just a few things.... Few triggers and treatments were listed. Some of the most common triggers are cigarette smoke, perfumes (such as hairspray and body spray), pollens and weather changes. Many asthmatics also suffer from traditional allergies, such as allergies to pets or foods, but an equal number have no apparent underlying allergies at all. It is especially important to note that perfume is a trigger, as many people seem to overlook this as a possible cause of discomfort, either for themselves or those around them.

Asthmatics have many treatment options, depending on the severity of their asthma. Mild cases of asthma are often treated with short acting bronchodilators, such as albuterol (Ventolin). Moderate cases of asthma can be treated with bronchodilators that work for up to 12 hours, (Serevent) or with corticosteroids, (Q-VAR).Broncho-dilators work to relax the smooth muscles found in the lungs, opening up the bronchial tubes. Corticosteroids work to inhibit inflammation, and decrease mucous within the bronchial passages. It should be noted that cortico- steroids are very safe when taken in the inhaled form, with few side effects, and little effect on the entire body. When inhaled, they act only in the lungs. For severe cases of asthma, oral steroids are often used in conjunction with bronchodilators. Oral steroids have deleterious effects on the entire body, so they are used as infrequently as possible.

These medicines come in various forms. The most common form is the MDI, or metered dose inhaler. The metered dose inhaler delivers a set amount of medication with each actuation. It is recommended that anyone with a metered dose inhaler use a spacer. I was recently told that when asthma meds are taken without a spacer, only 20% of the medicine actually reaches the lungs. Another common form of distribution is the nebulizer, a machine that turns the liquid medicine into a fine mist, which is then inhaled through a mouthpiece or a mask. A newer form of inhaler is the dry-powder disk, a form that I am unfamiliar with at the moment. It contains capsules of dry powder. You puncture the capsule by spinning the disk and then inhale the medicine. Yummy.....

The side effects of bronchodilators usually are mild, but can include heart palpitations, tremors, dizziness, headache and sore throat. The symptoms of overdose include extreme tremors, seizures, and anginal pain. These, however, are rare. The side effects of corticosteroids include headache, pharyngitis, and yeast infections of the mouth. These infections usually only occur if the person using the medication does not rinse his mouth. Ptui.... As I do not take oral steroids, I am not very familiar with the side effects, but I do know that they aren't very nice.

If you are having trouble breathing, and use your short-acting bronchodilator, I know it is tempting to use more than you were instructed to. DO NOT DO THIS. I learned this one the hard way. During soccer practice one day, I took oh, let's say, roughly 2-3 times the amount I should have. Well, the next thing I knew, I was having tremors that shook my entire body, and I hyperventilated. Woke up on the ground. Need I say more? If your meds do not kick in within 20 minutes, seek help. Call your doctor, or go to the emergency room. Don't take unnecessary risks, asthma is a very treatable condition, unless it is ignored.

Hope this helps, but note that I have not listed all the possible treatments or triggers for asthma. If you'd like to research all of them, I suggest Google. Breathe easy, peace.....

Bronchial Asthma is characterised by shortness of breath, a dry cough, wheezing and tightness in the chest, caused by an inflammation or swelling of the respiratory canals. This disorder is found in 3-5% of adults and 7-10% of children. Half of the people with asthma develop it before age 10 and most develop it before age 30. Asthma symptoms can decrease over time, especially in children.

Bronchial asthma can be classified into two main types: Extrinsic, in which an allergy (usually something inhaled) triggers an attack, and Intrinsic, in which there is no apparent external cause. The most common allergens responsible for extrinsic asthma are pollens, house dust, house dust mites, animal fur, feathers, and dander. Extrinsic asthma may also be triggered by a viral or bacterial respiratory infection, exercise (especially in cold air), tobacco smoke, other air pollutants, or by allergy to a particular food or drug. Asthma can also be caused by an allergic reaction to aspirin.

Exercise Guidelines for Asthmatics

  • Asthmatics should carry a bronchodilating inhaler with them at all times and use it at the first sign of wheezing or tightness in the chest
  • Exercise intensity should be kept low to start with and gradually increased over time. If the intensity is too high it may bring on an attack
  • Reduce intensity if asthma symptoms occur or are made worse
  • Using an inhaler several minutes before exercise may help to diminish the possibility of attacks
  • Asthmatics should drink plenty of fluids before and during exercise
  • Asthmatics should try to avoid exercising in extreme environmental conditions (high or low temperature, high pollen count, heavy air pollution) wearing a facemask during exercise may help to keep the inhaled air warm and moist and may minimise asthmatic responses
  • Only stable asthmatics should participate in exercise
  • If an asthma attack is not relieved by medication, the emergency services may need to be called as it can kill in a small percentage of cases.
  • Asthma is usually treated by Ventalin, a short-term cure to prevent inflammation taken through an inhaler. Beckatide is long-term cure drug. During an attack, the sufferer should try not to panic and attempt to control their breathing.

Taken from www.peter-sait.co.uk (my own site) from where it was originally written from a variety of sources

All these are great write-ups and I do not feel the need to re-iterate the details covered. I did notice the biggest thing that has helped me and several others I've spoken with is a diet adjustment.

I have found that I have fewer attacks and less wheezing, I haven't had an attack since last winter and that was on a terrible ski trip, when I eat majoritively vegetables, fruits and also take vitamin C supplements. I also recently was recommended to avoid sulfites, which also can trigger an episode.

All great write-ups, but I think it may be useful to inform non-asthmatics on how to recognize that an asthmatic is really in trouble.

Severe Asthma Warning Signs:
  • Clenched fists. People who have had asthma their whole lives often become extremely frustrated. If they're sitting in a chair that has arms, see if they are tightly gripping the ends of the arms. If you notice this, the asthmatic is likely trying to "fight off" the asthma. Try to calm him or her down. Say something relaxing, or maybe even something off-topic.
  • Only saying one word per breath. If this occurs, the asthmatic is having a bad attack and is likely panicking as well. In this situation, try to be soothing but watch the afflicted carefully as they are possibly in a serious spot.
  • Blue lips and/or blue under the fingernails. This is a huge tip-off that the asthma attack is a severe one. Blue lips or blue under the fingernails means very simply that the asthmatic isn't getting enough oxygen. Feel the person's hands. If they are very cold, that's another bad sign. When asthmatics get to this stage of a severe asthma attack, you need to get them to an emergency room. The afflicted will be very weak at this point, so you should help walk him or her to your car and drive to a hospital. Ignore such statements as, "I'll be fine, just give me a couple of minutes!"

If you ever have any doubts about the well-being of the asthmatic, simply ask them questions. An asthmatic is likely to know his or her asthma pretty well and they may be useful in determining what action to take.

Asth"ma [Gr. short-drawn breath, fr. to blow, for : cf. Skr. va, Goth. waian, to blow, E. wind.] Med.

A disease, characterized by difficulty of breathing (due to a spasmodic contraction of the bronchi), recurring at intervals, accompanied with a wheezing sound, a sense of constriction in the chest, a cough, and expectoration.


© Webster 1913.

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