Asthma is a condition caused by an overactive immune system. In persons with asthma, the immune system causes inflammation of the airway (the bronchioles), leading to bronchitis. Asthma can be triggered by a number of things, including stress, cold air, exercise and allergies. Although asthma cannot be cured, it can be successfully treated.
Chronic versus Acute
Asthma is a chronic condition that causes low-levels of bronchitis. Patients with chronic asthmatic bronchitis often have mild shortness of breath. They may also have a persistent cough as a result of increased mucous secretion (a result of the bronchitis). However, the chronic inflammation and bronchitis can evolve into an acute asthma attack if the immune system is exposed to a "trigger" (a substance which causes a powerful immune reaction). Acute asthmatic bronchitis can cause severe coughing and shortness of breath. In general, asthma initially occurs in children as their immune systems are more sensitive.
As the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute explains, treatment of asthma bronchitis has several goals. When a patient is experiencing an acute asthma attack, the goal of treatment is to relieve the symptoms of the attack. Otherwise, treatment aims to prevent these acute episodes. Treatment can also work to improve lung function and allow patients to not be limited in what activities they can perform. There is no cure for asthma, but many patients find that their asthma gets better as they get older.
In the event of an acute asthma attack, the Mayo Clinic explains that "rescue" medications are indicated. These include rapidly acting bronchodilators, which can be inhaled and work within minutes. These medications help relieve the swelling that bronchitis causes. These rapid-acting bronchodilators include medications known as beta-agonists, which mimic nerve signals to tell the muscles around the bronchioles to relax. Commonly used short-acting beta-agonists include albuterol, pirbuterol and levabuterol. Other rescue medications are ipratropium (another inhaled bronchodilator) as well as corticosteroids.
According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, long-term control of asthma is typically maintained with inhaled corticosteroids and long-acting bronchodilators. Long-acting bronchodilators include formeterol and salmeterol. These drugs can be used in combination with inhaled corticosteroids (such as fluticasone or beclomethasone) to keep the airways open, helping prevent acute flareups and reducing the long-term symptoms of asthma (such as coughing and shortness of breath). Patients can also use the oral medication cromolyn for control of chronic asthma symptoms. Other treatments for chronic asthma include leukotriene modifiers, which reduce inflammation. Examples of leukotriene modifiers include montelukast and zileuton.
Asthma and Allergies
In some cases, asthmatic bronchitis can be caused by allergies. In these cases, anti-allergy treatments can be effective at preventing acute asthmatic bronchitis. Omalizumab is a medication which reduces the immune system's response to allergies. Other treatments include antihistamines and allergy shots, which gradually desensitize the immune system to allergens.