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A cough and asthma are two different things. Yet people with asthma usually have difficulty breathing and often cough a lot. If you or your child is taking cough medicine regularly to suppress a cough, then the real problem could be something else. In fact, a persistent cough could be a sign of asthma. Even if you or your loved one is diagnosed with asthma, it is not the end of the world, because it can be controlled and you can live a normal, active life as millions of people who have asthma do.
You must have had a cough at some time or the other in your life. But you may not know exactly why you cough and what happens. To put it simply, a cough is your body's natural reaction to help remove harmful particles from your lungs. These particles are generally dust, viruses, bacteria or secretions.
So if your cough is excessive and continuous, it could indicate that you have a problem in your lungs.
If you are taking cough syrups for your cough, please remember that many cough syrups contain harmful stimulants which can give you temporary relief and mask the lung problem. So if you have a continuous cough, please do not delay consulting your doctor. To know more about cough, click here.
Asthma is a condition that affects the airways of your lungs, i.e. the tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs. [Watch video] In asthma, the muscles around the airways tighten and become narrow. This makes it difficult to breathe. There is also an inflammation (a swelling), in the lining of your airways, and sometimes, a sticky mucus or phlegm builds up that blocks the airways, making breathing difficult. Often, there is a wheezing sound. In asthma, your airways are thus very sensitive and react to many irritants called triggers, like cigarette smoke, pollen or cold air.
Now if you have asthma or know of anyone who does, the first thing you do is: Don't worry. You are not alone. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around 300 million people currently suffer from asthma. It is the most common chronic (long duration) disease among children. The WHO report also states that asthma affects about 25-30 million in India alone.
While earlier, asthma had a lot of stigma attached to it, today, thanks to more information about the disease and modern medicine, you can live normal, active life despite your asthma. Film stars have asthma, cricketers have asthma, prominent business people have asthma and they have not allowed it to come in the way of their success. So there's no reason why you should let asthma stop you or your loved one from making the most of life.
The usual symptoms of asthma are:
How is Asthma Diagnosed?
If you or your loved one has been diagnosed with asthma, there's absolutely no need to worry. There's no need to panic, or change your job or your city. Olympic athletes have asthma, top cricketers have asthma, actors have asthma, politicians have asthma, but they have not let it interfere with their normal life.
The key to getting your asthma under control is to understand your triggers, watch out for your symptoms, and to take your medication correctly. But first it must be diagnosed correctly.
In India, many parents do not want to accept that their child has asthma. They would prefer to hear that their child has 'wheezing bronchitis' or 'allergic bronchitis' rather than the word 'asthma'. They go from doctor to doctor thus causing hardship for the child and immense stress for themselves, when in actuality if asthma is detected early and treated on time, their child could lead a normal life, faster. Children should be children and an asthmatic child if treated properly can do everything a normal child does - from going to school regularly, playing sports and yes, even eating ice cream! Click here for Patient films.
Asthma is easy to detect but sometimes it is mistaken as a recurrent cough and thus not taken seriously or treated on time or treated with cough syrups. Often, asthma runs in the family. To help your doctor diagnose your asthma or your child's asthma, you will have to answer your doctor's questions as correctly as possible. The questions will be regarding your symptoms, your family history, the medications you are taking, the allergies you have and so on. This is called medical history. Most diagnosis is based on medical history. The doctor will also conduct a physical examination and recommend that you take some tests like the Peak Flow Meter (breathe-o meter) and Spirometry tests. To know more, read on.
Peak Flow Meter
A Peak Flow Meter (breathe-o meter) is a simple, affordable, hand held device which helps diagnose breathing problems and asthma in children and adults.
Just as you have a BP instrument to check blood pressure and the Glucometer for diabetics, the Peak Flow Meter (breathe-o meter) is like a thermometer for asthma. As a patient, you will have to blow into the mouthpiece of the device, and the reading will be taken to check your lung power. Most doctors have the device in their clinic but it is also available at most leading chemists if you want to keep your asthma in check.
If you have asthma and are checking your lung power with the Peak Flow Meter (breathe-o meter), and you notice a drop in the reading, it means that your asthma is not well controlled and you are likely to get an attack in the near future or within days. This is like an early warning signal to increase the dosage or the number of times you should take your medication. When the Peak Flow Meter (breathe-o meter) reading is normal, it suggests that your asthma is under control.
A Spirometry Test is a more sensitive and sophisticated test which detects the signs of asthma early. The Spirometer is used to measure how much air your lungs can hold and how efficiently the air moves into and out of your lungs. In other words, it gives a good indication of your lung power and gives you accurate details about your breathing capacity. The lab or the doctor conducting the test will give you a printed graph of your reading, just as you get a graph when you do your ECG test.
Both the Peak Flow Meter (breathe-o meter) and Spirometry tests are used to diagnose asthma and also help you measure your progress when your asthma is under control.
However, since these tests are not recommended for children below six years of age, you as a parent have to work together with your pediatrician, to make sure that your child's asthma is diagnosed early and correctly, by paying close attention to your family history and triggers. You will also be required to visit your doctor regularly so that together you can monitor your child's progress.
A trigger is anything that irritates the airways of the lungs and causes the symptoms of asthma. Everyone's asthma is different and it is likely that there will be more than one trigger that causes your asthma. Your trigger could be anything from dust mites and pets to pollution and pollen. It is important that you know your triggers and then do your best to avoid them. Because asthma can be controlled and you can live a normal life.
It may be difficult to identify your particular trigger but sometimes the clues are obvious. For eg: when your symptoms start within minutes of coming in contact with a cat or dog or bird. Or when your symptoms start when the air is polluted with the smoke of fireworks. You could possibly be allergic to something in the air which irritates your airways and brings about the attack.
The most common risk factors for developing asthma is environmental exposure to inhaled substances and particles that may cause allergic reactions or irritate the airways like house dust mites, tobacco smoke, chemical irritants in the workplace (in industries like coal, cement, paint, asbestos, mining, sugar, pesticides to name a few), air pollution and outdoor allergens like pollens. The risk is also high for those who live in congested areas, are exposed to damp walls, and the fumes of wood fire cooking.
When you cough, particles and secretions from your lungs are cleared. So coughing is your body's natural way to help prevent infection in your lungs.
However a cough can be annoying at times. Coughing can make you feel tired and also disturb your sleep. If your coughing is continuous and excessive, it could indicate that you have a problem in your lungs.
Coughs are generally classified based on their duration. If your cough lasts less than 3 weeks, it is termed as an acute cough. If your cough lasts longer than 8 weeks, it is defined as a chronic cough.
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