Often times it starts off as a persistent annoying cough, exercise intolerance, or recurrent respiratory infections. Other times it is overt wheezing or chest tightness. Asthma is a serous medical condition that can present in various ways. Asthma affects over 22 million Americans. Alpha Kappa Sorority, Inc. has recognized the seriousness of asthma and the impact it has on the African American community. Asthma Prevention and Management is one of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. National Health Initiatives for 2010 – 2014. The main goals are early diagnosis, treatment, awareness, and parental education and advocacy.
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the lungs in which the airways periodically and temporarily narrow in response to a trigger. Normally, the airways narrow to prevent harmful substance from entering the lungs. In people with asthma, the airways narrow too easily, too much, and in response to things that wouldn’t ordinarily cause a reaction. Asthma is very common. It is the most common chronic lung condition in America and the most common chronic childhood illness. It affects about 10% of American children and 5% of American adults.
Asthma can vary from mild to severe and an asthma attack can last from minutes to days. Asthma attacks are the result of a trigger irritating the airways and setting off a cascade of events. Once an asthma attack is triggered, the muscles in the airways tighten, the lining of the airways swell, and mucus production is increased. All of these changes in the airways cause difficult and labored breathing producing wheezing. Other symptoms of an asthma attack include difficulty breathing, coughing, chest pain, chest tightness, and nighttime coughing in children. In severe attacks, thick mucus plugs the airways completely blocks the flow of air.
The exact cause of asthma is not known. Many researchers believe hereditary and environmental factors are involved. Allergies also play a significant role for many people with asthma. About 80% of children and 50% of adults with asthma have allergies. Common allergens such as pollen, mold, dust mites, cockroach particles and animal dander can trigger asthma attacks when inhaled into the lungs. Other triggers include exercise, cold damp air, cold viruses, stress, tobacco, and pollution.
Once a person has been diagnosed with asthma they do not simply outgrow it. There is no cure for asthma but asthma can be managed with proper prevention and treatment. People with asthma should be aware of the triggers and avoid them as much as possible. If symptoms develop, all efforts should be made to take a quick acting mediation to prevent a full blown asthma attack. Quick acting medications are often called rescue medications and come in the form of an inhaler. Some people with severe asthma have to take long term medications to prevent asthma attacks. These medications reduce inflammation in the airways and are taken daily to prevent or decrease the frequency of attacks.
African Americans are 30% more likely than Caucasians to have asthma. African Americans are three times more likely to die from asthma related complications. The death rate is 7 times greater in African American children. African Americans are 4.5 times more likely to have to go to the emergency room for asthma related complications. Some of the theories for the health disparities include greater exposure to tobacco smoke, living in neighborhoods with higher pollution, living in poverty stricken areas where cockroach droppings are higher, and lack of access to health care.
It is important to recognize the symptoms of asthma. Sometimes it is just a persistent cough, frequent respiratory infections (cold/flu), or a chronic nighttime cough. Other times, the signs are clear including wheezing, chest tightness, or difficulty breathing. Either way, it is important to know the signs and symptoms so that a diagnosis can be made early. It is important to avoid known triggers for asthma. If an asthma attack is triggered, it is important to take medication as directed to minimize the severity of the attack. In severe cases, it is important to be compliant and adhere to long term medication regimens as directed by your physician. Although there is not a cure for asthma, there is hope.
All material in this article is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the con-tents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.