Asthma Questions: The Hygiene Hypothesis

January 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Asthma Problems

Question: I’ve heard something called the “hygiene hypothesis” being referenced when discussing asthma. What is this?


The “hygiene hypothesis” is a school of thought presented by certain medical studies, discovered during investigations in to why asthma is seemingly on the rise. While by no means a new condition, cases of asthma have been steadily rising since records began. Certain medical studies have tried to find out why this is, and along with environmental factors, the hygiene hypothesis has been suggested for this rise in cases.

“Hygiene hypothesis” is the term used to describe the fact that, as a species, we are far more hygienic than we have ever been. Most households use strong cleaning products, and young children are not as exposed to dirt and bacteria as they were in the 1950s and 1960s. While this cannot really be seen as a bad things, some studies have suggested that it may have contributed to a rise in asthma cases.

Bacteria in the air, when inhaled, is aggravating – and can cause temporary inflammation of the lungs. This usually manifests itself in coughing. Young children in the earlier parts of the 20th century would have had daily exposure to bacteria due to less rigorous hygiene and cleaning standards; as a result, the bronchi of their lungs would appear irritated. The body would then learn how to deal with this, and calm the bronchi down.

Asthma can essentially be described as a irritation of the bronchi. As children nowadays are not exposed to the same levels of bacteria, their bodies do not learn to ‘calm’ the bronchi in their early life. This, some suggest, has lead to a larger number of asthma cases, as when presented with bacteria now, the body is not as well-versed in how to react.

How To Cope With An Asthma Attack: Sufferers

January 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Asthma Problems

As anyone with asthma will know, worrying about suffering an asthma attack (medically known as an “acute exacerbation” of asthma) is something that prevails throughout life. When an attack hits, dealing with it effectively is an absolute essential. While the vast majority of the work will be done by your prescribed medication, there are things you can do to shorten and hopefully cease an attack:

— Remain Calm.

No one is disputing that asthma attacks – no matter how familiar they are – are frightening. It is a natural human instinct to want to be able to breathe, and when as asthma attack prevents this, we naturally panic. However, this can actually may an attack worse. A side effect of panic itself is shortness of breath – something that you don’t need when you’re already suffering an asthma attack! Try and keep calm throughout, wherever possible.

— Don’t Snatch For Breath.

As part of the panic response, we are inclined to ‘snatch’ for breath – that is, short and sharp breaths that do not actually meet our oxygen needs. As these breaths do not actually help an attack, all they can do is increase panic – and you don’t want that. Try breathing in for three seconds, and then out for three seconds, until you and in a regular pattern of breathing.

— Use Your Medication

That’s what it’s there for. As soon as you feel an attack coming on, reach for your inhalers or any other medical equipment you have to relieve an attack. Always keep your inhalers close by just in case you should suffer an attack unexpectedly.

How To Cope With An Asthma Attack: Non Sufferer

January 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Asthma Problems

If you, as a non-sufferer, have ever witnessed an asthma suffering enduring an asthma attack, you will know how terrifying an experience it can be. If you have never experienced an attack yourself, it is only natural for you to imagine the worst and panic. So, if you have a friend or family member who is prone to asthma attacks, read through this quick guide on to how best to help them when an attack sets in:

— Keep Calm.

This may sound obvious, but it is important. Asthma attacks are often distressing for the sufferer, and any anxiety or panic can actually make an attack worse. Therefore, if you are with someone when they suffer an attack, it is essential that you keep calm and don’t panic.

— Look For Their Inhalers.

Most asthmatics have the very tools they need to quell an attack close at hand: their inhalers. Asthmatics tend to keep these handy, so if you are going to the home of an asthmatic or going out in public with them, ask them where their inhalers are located – so you can grab them at short notice.

— Monitor The Situation

In rare instances, you may need to call for medical assistance if someone you know is suffering from an asthma attack. Call for emergency help if any of the following occur:

– Inhalers and other medications do not seem to be helping.

– The sufferer loses consciousness.

– The sufferer cannot use their medication and thus the attack is continuing for longer than it should.

Just be alert, aware and calm – and the vast majority of situations will need no outside help.

Asthma 101: The Peak Flow Meter

January 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Asthma Problems

As asthma is a chronic condition, it is important for sufferers’ to continually monitor the severity of their condition. As people age, their needs in terms of the medication they require to control their asthma may change – so continual monitoring is essential. It is also important for users to understand what makes their conditions worse, when it peaks and when it needs specific attention.

Thankfully, such monitoring can be done at home, using an item of equipment called a Peak Flow Meter. Essentially, a Peak Flow Meter monitors the effectiveness of a person’s lungs. This is done by measuring their expiration rate, known as their Peak Expiratory Flow Rate. When someone is suffering with asthma, their Peak Expiratory Flow Rate will be lower than one would usually expect.

The measurement is taken using a Peak Flow Meter, as mentioned. This is effectively a circular tube of plastic with a mouthpiece on one end; the user then blows, as hard as they can in a sudden burst of breath, in to the tube. A slide on the top of the tube will then move along a numbered chart, giving a Peak Flow reading.

The resulting reading will fit in to one of three categories:

Green: A normal Peak Flow Expiratory Rate has been detected. Medication is effective.

Yellow: Indicates a narrowing of the airways. If someone with asthma has taken their inhalers and still only achieves a yellow reading, they may require a stronger dosage.

Red: A medical emergency, seek immediate help.

A Peak Flow Meter will be provided to anyone diagnosed with asthma and should be used regularly to monitor the condition.

The Causes of Asthma

January 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Asthma Problems

The exact causes of asthma are unknown; there is no direct chain of events that effects every single sufferer. There is some evidence that asthma is a genetic condition, as people inherit the tendency towards inflamed airways – the primary problem associated with asthma. If a child’s parents both have asthma, they are statistically more likely to suffer from the illness themselves – but this is not always the case. Similarly, a child can have asthma even if there is no genetic history of it in their family. It really does seem to be the luck of the draw.

People who suffer from asthma are more likely to have allergies, particularly to dust mites and hay fever But again, this is not a certain link: lots of people who have hay fever do not have asthma, for example, just as lots of people who have asthma do not have hay fever

There are no known substances that are thought to actively ’cause’ asthma – though certain things, such as chemicals, allergens and smoke are known to exacerbate an existing condition.

It is natural when you, or someone you know, is diagnosed with asthma to question why it has happened. Unfortunately, asthma is one of the many illnesses that simply do not have a specific and clear-cut cause for why they have occurred. Learning to accept that sometimes, quite genuinely, these things do just happen is an important part of coming to terms with their asthma diagnosis.

Finally, if you are a parent and are concerned about passing asthma on to your children, this is by no means a certainty, so try not to fret.

Tips For An Asthma Friendly Home

January 6, 2012 by  
Filed under Asthma Problems

Asthma is an illness that is easily exacerbated, as sufferers are particularly sensitive to their environment. Major contributors to discomfort for asthma sufferers comes in the form of dust – a well known, researched and proven stimulant of asthma. However, dust is not the only substance that might be lurking in your home and making any asthma sufferers who enter miserable…

1. Mold

The vast majority of people will keep a clean house, but it is essential that if you do see mold – particularly mildew – building up around window frames or on ceilings, that you remove it. Mildew can make an asthma sufferer downright miserable as the particles of bacteria get in to the air and are subsequently breathed in to the lungs. Clean with tea-tree oil and warm water for a thorough result.

2. Cleaning Products

Any cleaning product that uses harsh chemicals is to be avoided if you’re looking to create an asthma friendly home. Wherever possible, substitute natural ingredients – such as the aforementioned tea tree oil, or an old staple such as white vinegar – for chemical-mix products. Avoid bleach wherever possible.

3. Animal Fur

While an asthma sufferer may not necessarily be allergic to animals, they may still suffer if they encounter a build-up of domestic pet fur. This is particularly true of cats, the fur from which is very fine and can be inhaled relatively easily. Vacuum regularly and keep an eye out for any hairballs that may be around, and groom your cat and dispose of excess fur regularly.

Asthma-Friendly Cleaning Products

Asthma – a respiratory illness caused by lung tube sensitivity – can affect anyone of any age, and can make the sufferers’ lives extremely unpleasant. If you, or someone you live with, suffers from asthma – it’s time to take a look in your cleaning cupboard.

Household cleaning products purchased from grocery stores tend to be a nightmare in a bottle for asthma sufferers. Those incredible products that clean quickly and easy tend to created by mixing strong chemicals, particles of which are absorbed in to the air – and then inhaled by humans – when the product is used. This is not a problem for healthy individuals, but these chemical particles can be extremely irritating for asthma sufferers – perhaps even to the extent of triggering an act.

The best way to counteract this is to switch to natural cleaning products, using items from yesteryear when chemicals were not readily available. The below items are asthma-friendly cleaning products, and most find them just as effective – if not more so – than their chemical-laden shop bought alternatives.

– White Vinegar: use to clean windows and glass for a streak-free finish, and to tackle stubborn stains.

– Natural Borax: be sure to buy natural substitutes to borax, which are just as effective though a little more expensive. A wonderful all-purpose cleaner to be used wherever you previously may have used bleach.

– Tea tree oil: a natural anti-bacterial substance, tea tree oil works well anywhere you wish to rid yourself of germs.

– Bees wax: better, and cheaper, than conventional furniture polish.

By switching to these products, you’ll not only save money but will vastly improve the air quality for anyone suffering from asthma. Everyone wins!

Asthma and the Winters of Discontent

Depending on the sufferer, the respiratory illness asthma can manifest itself in various ways. Some asthma sufferers find their condition is made worse by exposure to dust, whereas others will experience unpleasant tightness of breath while exercising.

One often overlooked cause of asthma aggravation is changes in temperature – that is, air temperature. This problem tends to present itself during winter, when a sufferer goes from a warm building inside and out in to cold air. This sudden change causes the lining of the lungs to contract in shock, and can trigger coughing fits, shortness of breath and wheezing in asthma sufferers. This can make winter an extremely unpleasant season for anyone affected.

There are various ways to deal with the issue, though none are 100% effective – but you can look to improve the situation. First and foremost; wrap up warm! The warmer you are when you step outside, the better chance your lungs will have with coping with the sudden change. A scarf, wrapped around the neck and preferably tucked in to the chest, is your best form of defense

It is also best to give your lungs chance to adjust to the change in temperature – so when you go outside, don’t suddenly start walking or exercising. Stand still and take shallow-to-medium breaths for a few minutes, so your lungs can adjust while they are in a relaxed state. If you change temperatures and then suddenly ask your lungs to work harder – such as by walking immediately – they will struggle to deal with the change all the more. Take it slowly and give your lungs a good chance to adapt

The Link Between Asthma and Allergies

January 6, 2012 by  
Filed under Asthma Problems

Understanding medicine is a complex business that requires years of study, often to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt things that sufferers of illnesses have long accepted as fact. One such accepted, though not medically confirmed, fact is that there is a link between asthma and allergies.

While it is known that some substances – such as tobacco smoke – can make asthma more difficult to deal with, there is no conclusive proof of a link between asthma and allergies. Many sufferers believe there is no need to fund expensive medical studies to ‘prove’ a link that is well known, and is often discussed by doctors during treatment of asthma.

Without medical studies, it is difficult to say what exactly the link is, but it does appear that people who suffer from any severity level of asthma are more likely to suffer from allergies. The most prevalent allergy is to dust mites, or general household dust. While dust has long been known to affect the lungs of asthma sufferers, it would appear that it can also manifest itself as a skin allergy. Sufferers report excessive itching and other physical discomforts aside from problems with their breathing – though these can be controlled using general anti-histamines.

Hay fever is another common affliction that has become associated with asthma, but again this can be dealt with using over-the-counter anti-histamine remedies. It is merely something asthma sufferers should be aware of, as related allergies can apparently appear at any time – no matter how long they have been suffering with asthma. If you find yourself experiencing physical allergy symptoms, contact your GP for diagnosis and treatment.

Fact Or Fiction: Exercise-Induced Asthma

January 6, 2012 by  
Filed under Asthma Problems

There is great debate among the medical community on the issue of “Exercise-Induced Asthma”. This is a type of asthma attack that occurs at a particular time; namely, during or after exercise. Some physicians insist that exercise-induced asthma does not exist and is simply a by-product of the sufferer being unfit – and this attitude extends to the general populace.

In reality, exercise-induced asthma is a very real problem that can effect thousands of people every year. It occurs when someone who already has asthma undergoes any kind of physical activity. Asthma is caused by an irritation in the tubes of the lungs, and studies have shown that the faster an asthma sufferer breathes, the more likely it is they will suffer from the traditional symptoms such as wheezing or coughing.

When we exercise, we get out of breath. This is a natural by-product of exercise and applies to even the fittest, Olympic-standard of athletes. If someone with asthma gets out of breath and begins to breathe faster, this can indeed trigger an asthma attack, as the tubes of their lungs become inflamed due to the speed of breathing.

However, there is no such thing as exercise-induced asthma without an existing asthma condition. Exercise does not create asthma; it merely worsens an existing problem. If someone is claiming to only suffer asthma when they exercise and at no other time in their life, then it is most likely that they are simply not quite fit enough to undertake the physical activity they have engaged in!