Asthma is a lung condition that makes it difficult to breathe. It’s a common condition, and unfortunately becoming more common. At present, over 6 million children and teens have asthma. Asthma affects the airways – the bronchial tubes – which is why it is sometimes called bronchial asthma. In order to understand how asthma works on the airways, you need to understand how breathing normally works.
Normally, when you breathe, you draw air in through your nose and mouth. It goes down the trachea and into the lungs through ‘bronchia’ and ‘bronchioles’, fleshy tubes whose job is to carry air into your lungs. In normal, healthy lungs, those tubes are firm and round, completely open and unobstructed. Air moves in and out of the lungs through them easily.
Asthmatic bronchia are nearly always slightly inflamed, the walls swollen, red and sensitive. The slight constriction may not make much difference most of the time, but it does make the bronchial walls far more sensitive. When irritants like cigarette smoke, chemicals or allergens are drawn in through the bronchial passages, the tiny particles in them irritate the lining of the bronchial walls, and they get even more swollen. At the same time, your lungs make more thick, heavy mucus in an effort to soothe the irritation. This closes the bronchial tubes down even more, making it more and more difficult to get air in and out of your lungs. Finally, the third thing that happens when you have an asthma flare is that the muscles around those tubes start tightening, adding a stranglehold from the outside to the narrowing on the passageway on the inside.
Now that you understand how asthma works on the airway, you can also understand how the different parts of treatment program for asthma works on the airway. Let’s take a look:
1. A bronchodilator inhaler is a muscle relaxant. It works to relieve constriction in your airways by relaxing the muscles around your bronchial tubes, allowing them to open more. Sometimes, a doctor will prescribe that you use a bronchodilator about fifteen minutes before using another inhaler to open up those passageways and let the medicine penetrate your airways.
2. An anti-inflammatory drug used on a daily basis can help reduce the chronic inflammation of the bronchial passageways and make them less sensitive to allergens and irritants. Most of the more common anti-inflammatory drugs are inhaled steroids which are judged safe for long-term use.
3. Avoiding triggers and allergens prevents the irritation of your bronchial passages that causes acute asthma flares.
4. Peak flow monitoring – or just being watchful – helps you monitor the condition of your bronchial tubes by measuring how much air is going in and out through your bronchia and bronchioles. When you notice a significant drop – or a slow steady one – you know that it’s time to call your doctor.
By understanding how asthma works on the airway, and how the different types of treatment for asthma all work together to reduce inflammation, irritation and constriction, you can see how important each part of your asthma treatment plan is. Keep in mind that every part of your treatment plan supports every other part, and working together you can be symptom-free for months.. or even years.