Asthma is a common long term inflammatory disease of the airways of the lungs. It is characterized by variable and recurring symptoms, reversible airflow obstruction, and bronchospasm.Symptoms include episodes of wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. These episodes may occur a few times a day or a few times per week. Depending on the person they may become worse at night or with exercise.
Asthma is characterized by recurrent episodes of wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing. Sputum may be produced from the lung by coughing but is often hard to bring up. During recovery from an attack, it may appear pus-like due to high levels of white blood cells called eosinophils. Symptoms are usually worse at night and in the early morning or in response to exercise or cold air.Some people with asthma rarely experience symptoms, usually in response to triggers, whereas others may have marked and persistent symptoms.
A number of other health conditions occur more frequently in those with asthma, including gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), rhinosinusitis, and obstructive sleep apnea. Psychological disorders are also more common, with anxiety disorders occurring in between 16–52% and mood disorders in 14–41%.However, it is not known if asthma causes psychological problems or if psychological problems lead to asthma. Those with asthma, especially if it is poorly controlled, are at high risk for radiocontrast reactions.
While asthma is a well-recognized condition, there is not one universal agreed upon definition. It is defined by the Global Initiative for Asthma as “a chronic inflammatory disorder of the airways in which many cells and cellular elements play a role. The chronic inflammation is associated with airway hyper-responsiveness that leads to recurrent episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness and coughing particularly at night or in the early morning. These episodes are usually associated with widespread but variable airflow obstruction within the lung that is often reversible either spontaneously or with treatment”.
There is currently no precise test for the diagnosis, which is typically based on the pattern of symptoms and response to therapy over time. A diagnosis of asthma should be suspected if there is a history of recurrent wheezing, coughing or difficulty breathing and these symptoms occur or worsen due to exercise, viral infections, allergens or air pollution.Spirometry is then used to confirm the diagnosis. In children under the age of six the diagnosis is more difficult as they are too young for spirometry.
Spirometry is recommended to aid in diagnosis and management. It is the single best test for asthma. If the FEV1 measured by this technique improves more than 12% following administration of a bronchodilator such as salbutamol, this is supportive of the diagnosis. It however may be normal in those with a history of mild asthma, not currently acting up. As caffeine is a bronchodilator in people with asthma, the use of caffeine before a lung function test may interfere with the results. Single-breath diffusing capacity can help differentiate asthma from COPD. It is reasonable to perform spirometry every one or two years to follow how well a person’s asthma is controlled.
Other supportive evidence includes: a ≥20% difference in peak expiratory flow rate on at least three days in a week for at least two weeks, a ≥20% improvement of peak flow following treatment with either salbutamol, inhaled corticosteroids or prednisone, or a ≥20% decrease in peak flow following exposure to a trigger. Testing peak expiratory flow is more variable than spirometry, however, and thus not recommended for routine diagnosis. It may be useful for daily self-monitoring in those with moderate to severe disease and for checking the effectiveness of new medications. It may also be helpful in guiding treatment in those with acute exacerbations.