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The Dr. is In

October 16, 2017 - 12:27am

I’ve always thought it would be fun to go through the fairy tales of our childhood and attempt to diagnose the key characters. With all of that huffing and puffing, it seems certain that the big bad wolf had some sort of lung issue, and for the purposes of this article, let’s call it asthma.

Asthma is a lung disease that inflames and narrows airways, causing symptoms of wheezing, shortness of breath, difficulty exhaling, chest tightness and coughing, among others. It affects about 3 percent of the general population, most commonly in males and children under 10 years of age.

Several different things can trigger an asthma flare-up, depending on the person: a cold or flu, exercise, airborne irritants (smoke or fumes), emotional upset, cold air, pollen, and inhaled and ingested allergens. In addition to the discomfort that uncontrolled asthma brings, it also carries with it many health risks.

Up to 20 percent of people with asthma have disturbed sleep at least once a week due to episodes. Nighttime asthma attacks are not uncommon due to natural changes in the body’s hormones at night, allowing for more inflammation. It is no secret that lack of sleep affects mood, energy, immune functioning and even blood pressure.

When it is hard to breathe, anxiety and depression can come into play. Missing out on activities that you enjoy or worrying about the next flare-up can cast a shadow over your mood. Setbacks and flare-ups can be discouraging, having a negative impact on your mental health. No wonder the wolf appeared to be in such a foul mood.

The emotional component, in addition to the episodes themselves can cause missed work or school days. While absenteeism may not seem like a health issue, losing a job or not completing your education can take a significant toll on your health.

With asthma that is difficult to manage, frequent hospitalizations can occur, especially when air pollution is prevalent. A study conducted in the years following Kilauea’s re-eruption indicated an increase in emergency room visits and hospitalizations by people in respiratory distress who had had prior lung issues. These visits can be stressful and frightening, disrupting your normal life.

We know that asthma causes inflammation in the lungs, making it hard to breathe. When uncontrolled, asthma results in longer periods of inflammation that can cause structural damage to the lung. This damage, called airway remodeling, makes it permanently harder to breathe and enjoy everyday activities such as playing with your children at the park or going up a flight of stairs.

There are a host of other diseases that can develop due to the way asthma stresses the body. These can include rhinitis or sinusitis, acid reflux (GERD), hormonal or psychiatric disorders and sleep apnea. People with severe uncontrolled asthma are more likely to develop other chronic lung diseases, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

It is important to manage asthma as diligently as possible for lung health as well as to protect yourself from these secondary conditions. There are many ways to do this for mild forms of asthma. With the help of your health care provider, identify and avoid things you are allergic or sensitive to that trigger your episodes. Diet and nutrient therapies can help manage mild asthma symptoms. Pharmaceuticals are important to have on hand should a more severe attack occur.

Our fairy tale may have had a very different ending if the big bad wolf had managed his asthma, gotten better sleep, had fewer serious health issues and been happier overall. Who knows, he may very well have been a kind old chap who knocked on his neighbors’ doors and was invited in to tea.

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