Asthma (from the Greek άσθμα, ásthma, "panting") is the common chronic inflammatory disease of the airways characterized by variable and recurring symptoms, reversible airflow obstruction, and bronchospasm. Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Asthma is clinically classified according to the frequency of symptoms, forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1), and peak expiratory flow rate. Asthma may also be classified as atopic (extrinsic) or non-atopic (intrinsic).
It is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.Treatment of acute symptoms is usually with an inhaled short-acting beta-2 agonist (such as salbutamol). Symptoms can be prevented by avoiding triggers, such as allergens and irritants, and by inhaling corticosteroids.Leukotriene antagonists are less effective than corticosteroids and thus less preferred.
Its diagnosis is usually made based on the pattern of symptoms and/or response to therapy over time. The prevalence of asthma has increased significantly since the 1970s. As of 2010, 300 million people were affected worldwide. In 2009 asthma caused 250,000 deaths globally. Despite this, with proper control of asthma with step down therapy, prognosis is generally good.
Asthma is clinically classified according to the frequency of symptoms, forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1), and peak expiratory flow rate. Asthma may also be classified as atopic (extrinsic) or non-atopic (intrinsic), based on whether symptoms are precipitated by allergens (atopic) or not (non-atopic).
While asthma is classified based on severity, at the moment there is no clear method for classifying different subgroups of asthma beyond this system. Within the classifications described above, although the cases of asthma respond to the same treatment differs, thus it is clear that the cases within a classification have significant differences. Finding ways to identify subgroups that respond well to different types of treatments is a current critical goal of asthma research.
Although asthma is a chronic obstructive condition, it is not considered as a part of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as this term refers specifically to combinations of disease that are irreversible such as bronchiectasis, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema. Unlike these diseases, the airway obstruction in asthma is usually reversible; however, if left untreated, the chronic inflammation of the lungs during asthma can become irreversible obstruction due to airway remodeling. In contrast to emphysema, asthma affects the bronchi, not the alveoli.
Brittle asthma is a term used to describe two types of asthma, distinguishable by recurrent, severe attacks. Type 1 brittle asthma refers to disease with wide peak flow variability, despite intense medication. Type 2 brittle asthma describes background well-controlled asthma, with sudden severe exacerbations.
An acute asthma exacerbation is commonly referred to as an asthma attack. The classic symptoms are shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness. While these are the primary symptoms of asthma, some people present primarily with coughing, and in severe cases, air motion may be significantly impaired such that no wheezing is heard.
Signs which occur during an asthma attack include the use of accessory muscles of respiration (sternocleidomastoid and scalene muscles of the neck), there may be a paradoxical pulse (a pulse that is weaker during inhalation and stronger during exhalation), and over-inflation of the chest. A blue color of the skin and nails may occur from lack of oxygen.
In a mild exacerbation the peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) is ≥200 L/min or ≥50% of the predicted best. Moderate is defined as between 80 and 200 L/min or
Insufficient levels of vitamin D are linked with severe asthma attacks.
Status asthmaticus is an acute exacerbation of asthma that does not respond to standard treatments of bronchodilators and steroids. Nonselective beta blockers (such as Timolol) have caused fatal status asthmaticus.
A diagnosis of asthma is common among top athletes. One survey of participants in the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., showed that 15% had been diagnosed with asthma, and that 10% were on asthma medication.
There appears to be a relatively high incidence of asthma in sports such as cycling, mountain biking, and long-distance running, and a relatively lower incidence in weightlifting and diving. It is unclear how much of these disparities are from the effects of training in the sport.
Exercise induced asthma can be treated with the use of a short-acting beta2 agonist.
Asthma as a result of (or worsened by) workplace exposures is a commonly reported occupational respiratory disease. Still most cases of occupational asthma are not reported or are not recognized as such. Estimates by the American Thoracic Society (2004) suggest that 15–23% of new-onset asthma cases in adults are work related. In one study monitoring workplace asthma by occupation, the highest percentage of cases occurred among operators, fabricators, and laborers (32.9%), followed by managerial and professional specialists (20.2%), and in technical, sales, and administrative support jobs (19.2%). Most cases were associated with the manufacturing (41.4%) and services (34.2%) industries. Animal proteins, enzymes, flour, natural rubber latex, and certain reactive chemicals are commonly associated with work-related asthma. When recognized, these hazards can be mitigated, dropping the risk of disease.
Signs and symptoms
Common symptoms of asthma include wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and coughing. Symptoms are often worse at night or in the early morning, or in response to exercise or cold air. Some people with asthma only rarely experience symptoms, usually in response to triggers, whereas other may have marked persistent airflow obstruction.
Gastro-esophageal reflux disease
Gastro-esophageal reflux disease coexists with asthma in 80% of people with asthma, with similar symptoms. This is due to increased lung pressures, promoting bronchoconstriction, and through chronic aspiration.
Due to altered anatomy of the respiratory tract: increased upper airway adipose deposition, altered pharynx skeletal morphology, and extension of the pharyngeal airway; leading to upper airway collapse.
Asthma is caused by environmental and genetic factors. These factors influence how severe asthma is and how well it responds to medication. The interaction is complex and not fully understood.
Studying the prevalence of asthma and related diseases such as eczema and hay fever have yielded important clues about some key risk factors. The strongest risk factor for developing asthma is a history of atopic disease; this increases one's risk of hay fever by up to 5x and the risk of asthma by 3-4x. In children between the ages of 3-14, a positive skin test for allergies and an increase in immunoglobulin E increases the chance of having asthma. In adults, the more allergens one reacts positively to in a skin test, the higher the odds of having asthma.
Because much allergic asthma is associated with sensitivity to indoor allergens and because Western styles of housing favor greater exposure to indoor allergens, much attention has focused on increased exposure to these allergens in infancy and early childhood as a primary cause of the rise in asthma. Primary prevention studies aimed at the aggressive reduction of airborne allergens in a home with infants have shown mixed findings. Strict reduction of dust mite allergens, for example, reduces the risk of allergic sensitization to dust mites, and modestly reduces the risk of developing asthma up until the age of 8 years old. However, studies also showed that the effects of exposure to cat and dog allergens worked in the converse fashion; exposure during the first year of life was found to reduce the risk of allergic sensitization and of developing asthma later in life.
The inconsistency of this data has inspired research into other facets of Western society and their impact upon the prevalence of asthma. One subject that appears to show a strong correlation is the development of asthma and obesity. In the United Kingdom and United States, the rise in asthma prevalence has echoed an almost epidemic rise in the prevalence of obesity. In Taiwan, symptoms of allergies and airway hyper-reactivity increased in correlation with each 20% increase in body-mass index. Several factors associated with obesity may play a role in the pathogenesis of asthma, including decreased respiratory function due to a buildup of adipose tissue (fat) and the fact that adipose tissue leads to a pro-inflammatory state, which has been associated with non-eosinophilic asthma.
Asthma has been associated with Churg–Strauss syndrome, and individuals with immunologically mediated urticaria may also experience systemic symptoms with generalized urticaria, rhino-conjunctivitis, orolaryngeal and gastrointestinal symptoms, asthma, and, at worst, anaphylaxis. Additionally, adult-onset asthma has been associated with periocular xanthogranulomas.