Hiya Islam | Published: 00:00, Dec 30,2018

Science for youth

Your chest feels tight and heavy. There is too much of coughing. Like a fish out of water, you struggle for breath. At the same time, you, haphazardly, look for the inhaler. It is almost impossible to breathe yet a thought of ‘what must have caused it this time’ lingers in a corner of your mind. This is a typical scenario of an asthma attack. At such crisis, an inhaler can be the difference between life and death.

Surveys indicate that asthma, the most common lung condition in the world, can onset in early childhood, as young as 5 years of age. Although it can occur at any stage, it is typically more common in people under 40. The current strategy is to take preventive measures and relieving medications; there is no permanent cure for this chronic condition.

Asthmatics have very sensitive airways which can react to a number of things in the environment. These triggers fall under a variety of ranges; allergens, infections, exercise, weather changes or even medications such as, aspirin. An asthma attack is said to be the sudden worsening of the symptoms that requires medical intervention to resume normal breathing.

Asthma itself can be categorised into different groups. For instance, allergic asthma is caused by allergens (animal dander, dust, pollen, molds etc.). Non-allergic asthma, on the other hand, is caused by certain odors/sprays, tobacco smoke or infections. Exercise-induced asthma develops symptoms usually within 15-20 minutes of exercise. Medication-induced asthma shows the signs when aspirin or any other NSAIDs are used. 

During an attack, there are three primary changes which occur in the lungs leading to the symptoms. Surplus production of mucus and inflamed airways block the path of air. Muscles in the air passages tighten causing less air to enter the lungs. This is known as bronchoconstriction. This is a natural phenomenon in humans, a protective mechanism to prevent entry of foreign matter. But, as aforementioned, it is these muscles that become way too sensitive. The sensitivity is suggested to have a genetic basis. Research is still trying to find the true link between asthma and humans.

While there are several kinds of inhalers in the market, the popular one, known as ‘rescue inhalers’ contain albuterol/salbutamol. It is a quick-relief medication. It works by binding with receptors on the surface of airway muscle, thereby relaxing the constricted smooth muscles.  These come in aerosol form. Dry-powder inhalers DPI contain drugs in powdered form.

Whichever kind of inhaler is used, all aim to directly reach the lungs and allow dilation of air passages to aid breathing. Avoiding encounter with ‘triggers’ and following medication can smoothly set you back on track.

Hiya Islam is a student of BRAC University

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