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Asthma: Part 2

Posted by Eamonn Brady on

What happens during an asthma attack?

During an asthma attack, something triggers a biological process called inflammation. Inflammation is one of the ways that the body's immune system fights infection. If the body detects a lung infection, it starts the process of inflammation. White blood cells engulf infection area to kill the infection and prevent it spreading. The white blood cells cause the airways to swell and produce mucus. In an asthmatic, the airways are very sensitive to the effects of inflammation. As a result, too much mucus is produced and the airways swell more than usual. Also, as a response to the inflammation, the muscles surrounding the airways begin to contract, making the airways narrower and narrower. The combination of excess mucus, swelling and contraction of the airways, makes breathing difficult and produces the wheezing and coughing that is associated with asthma.


When to get immediate help?

The following are signs of a severe asthma attack: The reliever inhaler (usually blue) does not help symptoms at all. The symptoms of wheezing, coughing, tight chest are severe and constant. Too breathless to speak. Pulse is racing. Feeling agitated or restless. Lips or finger nails look blue. It is important to immediate medical help when these symptoms occur. An asthma attack can be fatal if not treated quickly. Asthma related deaths are extremely rare nowadays because of advances in modern medicine.


There is no cure for asthma. Treatment can help control the condition. Treatment is based on relief of symptoms and preventing future symptoms and attacks from developing. Successful prevention can be achieved through a combination of medicines, lifestyle changes and identification and avoiding asthma triggers.

Reliever inhalers

A drug called a short-acting beta 2-agonist open up the airways. These work quickly to relieve asthma. They work by relaxing the muscles surrounding the narrowed airways. Examples of beta 2-agonists include salbutamol (Ventolin®, Salamol®, Salbul®) and terbutaline (Bricanyl®). They are usually blue in colour. They are generally safe medicines with few side effects, unless they are over used. It is important for every asthmatic to have a beta-2 agonist inhaler. If an asthmatic needs to use their beta agonist inhaler too regularly (three or more times per week) should have their therapy reviewed. The main side effects include a mild shaking of the hands, headache and muscle cramps. These usually only occur with high doses of relievers and usually only last for a few minutes. In exercise induced asthma, suffers are advised to use a short acting beta2-agonist, 10-15 minutes before exercise, and again after 2 hours of prolonged exercise, or when they finish.


To be continued...

Next week I will discuss other medicines available to treat and prevent asthma.


Disclaimer: Please ensure you consult with your healthcare professional before making any changes recommended


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