Asthma (bronchial asthma) is the leading chronic disease in children, and its rate is rapidly increasing, especially in African-American children. It also occurs in teenagers and adults. In asthma, the airways or bronchial tubes of the lungs narrow or close as a result of inflammation. Mucus, or slippery secretions, gradually increases in these respiratory or breathing tubes. It obstructs the narrower tubes and makes it very hard to breathe. In other words, asthma is generally characterized by reversible airway obstruction.
Asthma attacks are stimulated by exposure to some irritating substance, also called an irritant, or allergen, that causes or triggers an allergic reaction. The earlier in life this occurs, the more severe the asthma is likely to be. Key signs and symptoms during asthma attacks are shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing.
Irritants or allergens which trigger asthma attacks vary from one person to another. However, frequent triggers are:
smoke, especially tobacco smoke
cockroaches and their droppings
sulfites (they’re in some soft drinks and processed foods)
Importance of Ongoing or Long-term Treatment and Support Groups
Long-term treatment is very important for asthma control. That includes finding a doctor who is experienced with this disease, and who you are comfortable having as a long-term care partner. The doctor can help in identifying the person’s asthma triggers, selecting the appropriate medical treatment for daily anti-inflammatory care, and how to best handle acute attacks, which includes the use of a bronchodilator or inhaler for quick relief.
Because teens with asthma often present special challenges, for them and their parents, a support group for teens with asthma may be helpful. In fact, a support group for parents of children with asthma is also likely to be helpful. For more information on asthma and asthma related resources, you can contact the American Lung Association, Tel. (212)315-8700, and the Asthma and Allergy Network/Mothers of Asthmatics, Tel. 800/878-4403. The web sites of both of these organizations can be reached directly from our Resource Directory.
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