What is Asthma?
The respiratory system
Asthma is a disease that affects the respiratory system. This system consists of the nasal fossa, the larynx, the trachea, and the alveoli, where the gas exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide with the blood takes place. The trachea branches into the main bronchi that, in turn, branch into the lower calibre bronchi, called bronchioles.
Asthma mainly affects the bronchi and the bronchioles that are used to drive the air in and out of the lungs (inhaling and exhaling). What happens in asthma is that the walls of the bronchi are inflamed and become swollen, there is a higher production of mucous, which is viscous and difficult to eliminate, and the muscle that surrounds the walls of the bronchi contracts making the lumen is narrow and breathing difficult.
The nose and the paranasal sinuses are also affected in some asthmatic patients, which are known as rhinitis and sinusitis, respectively.
How many people are affected?
Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases at a world level. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that there are 235 million people all over the world with asthma. Its prevalence is notably elevated in urbanised regions, associated with environmental changes and lifestyles. In Spain, it affects 5% of the adult population and up to 10% of the child population, taking into account that around 50% of the patients are still not diagnosed.
Types of Asthma
The respiratory inflammation can be classified depending on the:
Allergic asthma. It occurs in association with the exposure to allergic substances that are in the environment (pneumo-allergens), such as pollen, dust mites, animal hairs, and fungi, among others. Depending on the type of allergen, the symptoms can appear in determined seasons of the year.
Non-allergic asthma. It is not related to allergies, and the symptoms can appear with sudden changes in temperature, as viral or bacterial respiratory infections, or exposure to irritant substances.
Asthma induced by exercise. The symptoms appear while performing physical exercise or just after finishing the activity.
Occupational asthma. The symptoms appear due to the exposure of substances common to the work place (such as sawdust, flours, metals, plastic resins, among others.)
Severity and control:
Depending on the frequency and severity of the symptoms, it can be classified into: intermittent asthma and persistent asthma. The latter may be mild, moderate, or severe.
Depending on the level of control of the symptoms under treatment, it can be classified as, well-controlled asthma, partially controlled asthma, or uncontrolled asthma.
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