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Is Asthma Deadly?

Asthma affects millions and for a small segment of the population, it can be deadly

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Is Asthma Deadly?
Is Asthma Deadly? Photo Credit U. Baumgarten via Getty Images

Overview

Asthma can be deadly for a small percentage of the estimated 20 to 25 million people in the U.S. living with the disease. More than half of those with asthma experience an attack at least once a year. Unfortunately, about 3,000 people die from asthma each year, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Luckily, this number is actually very small -- it is equivalent to about 0.014 percent of asthma patients. Most people with asthma will not have life-threatening complications.

Fewer than 50 percent of people with asthma reported being taught how to avoid substances or situations that can trigger attacks.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology stated in 2008

Asthma Symptoms and Types

Asthma is a lung disease that occurs when a person’s airways are chronically inflamed. The inflammation narrows the airways and limits the amount of air a person can take into his or her lungs. Susceptibility to asthma is inherited -- if your parents had the problem, you are more likely to develop it as well.

There are two main types of asthma. The first is called nonallergic asthma. As the name suggests, nonallergic asthma is not connected to an allergic reaction.

The second type of asthma is called allergic asthma. Allergic asthma develops as a part of an allergic reaction caused by inhaling allergens, such as pollen, mold spores, or cat dander, which produce additional inflammation that hinders breathing.

Symptoms of both types of asthma are made worse by specific triggers. Examples of triggers provided by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America include:

• allergens

• airborne irritants

• respiratory infections

• exercise

• weather

• expressing strong emotions

• certain medications

An Asthma Attack

When a trigger brings on an asthma attack, the already hypersensitive airways of a person with asthma become even more inflamed. The inflammatory response causes airway linings to swell. Smooth muscle cells lining the airway passages spasm and constrict, and the airways fill with mucus.

With breathing passages so constricted, it becomes extremely difficult to get air into the lungs. Without air, your body cannot get the oxygen it needs to function.

In the case of a severe asthma attack, unconsciousness and death can result unless the airways can be relaxed with prompt medical treatment or prescribed medications.

Avoiding Attacks

The key to avoiding serious asthma attacks is to identify your triggers, avoid them, and take all medications prescribed by your physician.

Unfortunately, many people with asthma don’t get this message. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology stated in 2008 that fewer than 50 percent of people with asthma reported being taught how to avoid substances or situations that can trigger attacks.

If you or a loved one in your life has asthma, spread the word: learn to avoid your triggers! It can save your life.

About the Author

Boyan Hadjiev, MD, has been a practicing physician for five years. He is double board certified in Internal Medicine, (2003), and Allergy and Immunology, (2005).

Dr. Hadjiev graduated from University of Michigan with a BA in biology and an MD from Cleveland Clinic-Case Western Reserve School of Medicine.

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