The Mugger in the Medical Field

There’s a mugger in our midst. One who robs us of our health in galling ways. This mugger picks candidates to drink from his cup of violence and convinces our immune system to participate in the robbery of oxygen that is rightfully ours. I have heard of tales of someone being descended upon while in the midst of a fit of laughter. Laughter. Why should asthma attack someone when they are laughing? Can’t it wait? Doesn’t it know how precious laughter is in adulthood?

It starts with coughs, wheezing and then a feeling of shortness of breath. The chest feels tight and the airways feel constricted. There is pain and a feeling of imminent death. This feeling is usually not misplaced. If unattended, asthma has a scorecard where the death rate ranks highly. If death was awarding its servants then asthma would be a decorated individual, worthy of a place in the high table where heart disease and stroke sit.

A sign we never want to see our airways put up…

That’s why people are advised to carry inhalers with them if they have had an asthmatic attack before. The drug in the inhaler opens up the airways rapidly and postpones the meeting with death. Something so important should be used properly. Mistakes like holding it upside down or trying to use it while still sealed are unacceptable. The longer the delay to inhale the drug the stronger the attack gets. Mucous starts to build up in the airways and this acts as a roadblock that doesn’t let the drug access its target. We can mull over other causes of death in asthma but compliance shouldn’t be one of them.

Compliance is when we have identified the disease, studied it and come up with a cure. Then for some reason humans refuse that cure. Accessibility is another issue. This one is different. Some people who have had asthmatic attacks in the past simply don’t want to carry the inhaler around. Or they have it but it’s conveniently out of reach. I am being sarcastic. It should always be within reach, for no one knows the day or hour.

We do know the signs though. We know things that put people at risk of getting an asthmatic attack. Things like obesity, stress, tobacco smoke, cold air and allergens such as pollen and dander. They should be avoided where possible. Exercise should be done under the instructions of a health professional because it can lead to breathlessness and encourage an asthmatic attack.

It is important to keep warm when the weather gets cold…

We have a few statistics to ogle at so let’s do that. They do make for an interesting reading. 40% of children will have breathing issues like wheezing but only 1% grow up to be asthmatic. In the age bracket where life begins (40+), more women than men suffer from asthma. There is also a higher prevalence of asthma in developed countries (15-20%) compared to less developed countries (2-4%). Hmmm. We do know that poverty gives you less tools to modify your environment. And perhaps it’s a good time to talk about the pathophysiology of asthma. I like dropping in a few big words every now and then. Usually the meaning is not as big as the word. But it looks good. We want to catch a glimpse of how asthma manifests itself.

The immune system has a way of differentiating friend from enemy. When we are kids the immune system is also a youngster. It is at this time that it learns what is harmful and what is not. Harmful things are noted and marked to be treated harshly the next time they show up. Harmless things are left to their own devices. This is where the trouble starts. When things that should be harmless are marked off as harmful. The body treats something normal in the air like an invader and tries its best to keep it out by shutting up the airways. That’s why 100 people could be in an environment where there is smoke, but only five or so people will get an asthmatic attack.

Maybe you are asking yourself, good read but I have never suffered from asthma. Why should I know anything about it? Well, first, congratulations on not being mugged by asthma. I am not being sarcastic. Asthma is a lottery that you do not want to win. Second, maybe you could be having a relative who has asthma or a friend. Knowing to help them use an inhaler instead of just standing around confused in the event of an attack could be life-changing or in this case, lifesaving. We did mention that the death rate can be surprisingly high if it is not attended to. Third, it’s the kids. Respiratory infections in children should be treated by a health professional without delay. Viral infections of the airways can encourage the development of asthma if left untreated. And let the kids play outside from time to time. They need it.

Asthma has no cure. That’s why education about it is very important. What to do incase of an attack. Things to avoid so as to prevent chances of an attack. This is the information that will get people as close to living a normal life as can be. Normal is always a good thing in the medical field.

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