According to the World Health Organization, there are between 100 and 150 million people who suffer from symptoms of bronchial asthma around the globe. Although many people are able to live normal, healthy lives with this common respiratory illness, it claims the lives of more than 180,000 people each year. Asthma attacks can also be caused by several different triggers, including exercise, allergies and irritants such as chemical fumes or tobacco smoke.
During an asthma attack, the airways (bronchioles) that carry oxygen from the upper respiratory tract into the lungs become swollen and constricted. Following this first stage of inflammation, the bronchioles tend to overreact by producing extra mucus, thereby exacerbating the issue and making it harder to breathe. The symptoms of an asthma attack are well known, and including wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. The severity of these attacks can range from minor nuisances to live-threatening medical emergencies.
In this illustration, you can see a comparison of a healthy bronchiole with one that is inflamed during an asthma attack. Whereas the bronchiole on the right appears healthy and free of obstructions, the bronchiole on the left has been constricted by surrounding muscle tissue and filled with fluid. If this inflammation is severe enough and left untreated, it can cause permanent damage to the airways.
The good news is that these days, people with asthma have access to a number of different treatment options that can effectively prevent and mitigate the symptoms of an asthma attack. To learn more about the causes, symptoms and treatments of bronchial asthma, check out this comprehensive guide from the Mayo Clinic!