Receiving a medical diagnosis, such as asthma, may be overwhelming and scary. Learning about the condition, and how to cope with it, can make it more manageable.
Asthma is a common, chronic inflammatory condition that affects both children and adults. With asthma, the lining of the airways in the lungs become narrowed and inflamed, making the lungs more sensitive to certain substances, sometimes called asthma “triggers”. Triggers include environmental factors like air pollution, pet dander, exercise, stress, weather changes, tobacco smoke or even certain foods or food additives.
Asthma can cause a variety of symptoms including wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and coughing. There are three major types of asthma, allergic, non-allergic and eosinophilic asthma. Allergic asthma is caused by exposure to an allergen, such as mold or a food additive. Non-allergic asthma is triggered by illness, exercise, weather and airborne irritants. Eosinophilic asthma is a severe type of asthma caused by the overabundance of eosinophils, a type of white blood cells. The presence of eosinophils in the airways and lungs can lead to inflammation and swelling.
Although there is no cure for asthma, there are a variety of treatment options available that can help minimize symptoms and improve quality of life.How Asthma Affects the Body
1. Brain: Having asthma increases the risk for a variety of mood changes, including anxiety, depression and panic disorders.
2. Nose: Asthma can cause allergic rhinitis, inflammation of the mucus membranes in the nose caused by the immune system’s reaction to an allergen, like dust or mold. Allergic rhinitis causes stuffiness, runny nose and sneezing. Asthma can increase the risk of nasal polyps, small growths on the lining of the inside of the nose or sinus cavities. Nasal polyps are not cancerous and usually painless. They can cause a runny or stuffy nose, postnasal drip, loss of taste/smell, headaches, sinus pressure, itchy eyes and sneezing.
3. Face: Allergic sinusitis is the inflammation of the mucus membranes in the sinuses. Allergic sinusitis can cause a runny nose, facial pain and pressure, congestion, lowered ability to smell, bad breath and a cough with mucus.
4. Throat: Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is common in those with asthma. OSA causes interruptions in breathing during sleep due to relaxation of muscles and structures in the mouth, throat and nose, obstructing airflow. OSA can put a person at higher risk for high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.
5. Esophagus: Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE) occurs when the esophagus becomes inflamed due to the presence of eosinophils, a type of white blood cell. This chronic allergic condition causes damage to the esophagus and may make eating difficult or painful. Those with EoE commonly have other allergic diseases, like asthma.
6. Esophagus/Stomach: Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), or heartburn, can trigger asthma symptoms. GERD occurs when the contents of the stomach, including stomach acid, move up into the esophagus. Check out the Preventing Heartburn handout in the Tools and Resources section for more information.
7. Lungs: During an asthma attack, the airways contract and become smaller. The tissues lining the airways may also become inflamed and release mucous, causing more narrowing and breathing problems. For those with eosinophilic asthma, the eosinophils in the lungs may release additional substances, which can constrict the airways even more.
8. GI Tract: Eosinophilic Gastroenteritis (EGE) occurs when the presence of a certain type of white blood cell, eosinophils, cause inflammation and injury to the stomach and small intestine. Symptoms of EGE may include heartburn, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and bloating. EGE occurs more often in those who have other allergic conditions, like asthma.
To better understand this disease, your symptoms, and how nutrition is affected, see the table below for more details.