Sunday, January 18, 2009
Posted on 11:30:00 PM | 0 Comments
The most common problems of the respiratory system are:
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes airways to tighten and narrow. Often triggered by irritants in the air such as cigarette smoke, asthma flares involve contraction and swelling of the muscles lining the tiny airways. The resulting narrowing of the airways prevents air from flowing properly, causing wheezing and difficulty breathing, sometimes to the point of being life-threatening. Management of asthma starts with an asthma management plan, which usually involves avoiding asthma triggers and sometimes taking medications.
Not to be confused with bronchitis, bronchiolitis is an inflammation of the bronchioles, the smallest branches of the bronchial tree. Bronchiolitis affects mostly infants and young children, and can cause wheezing and serious difficulty breathing. It's usually caused by specific viruses in the wintertime, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
About Asthma Flare-Ups
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that causes airways to become inflamed, leading to symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Anyone can have asthma, including infants and adolescents. The tendency to develop asthma is often inherited.
Many kids with asthma can breathe normally for weeks or months between flare-ups. When flare-ups do occur, they often seem to happen without warning. Actually, an asthma flare-up usually develops over time, involving a complicated process of increasing airway obstruction.
All children with asthma have airways that are inflamed, which means that they swell and produce lots of thick mucus. In addition, their airways are also overly sensitive, or hyperreactive, to certain asthma triggers.
When exposed to these triggers, the muscles surrounding the airways tend to tighten, which makes the already clogged airways even narrower. Things that trigger flare-ups differ from person to person. Some common triggers are exercise, allergies, viral infections, and smoke.
So an asthma flare-up is caused by three important changes in the airways:
- swelling of the lining of the airways
- excess mucus that results in congestion and mucus "plugs" that get caught in the narrowed airways
- bronchoconstriction, which refers to the tightening of the muscles surrounding the airways
Together, the swelling, excess mucus, and bronchoconstriction narrow the airways and make it difficult to move air through (like breathing through a straw). During an asthma flare-up, kids may experience coughing, wheezing (a breezy whistling sound in the chest when breathing), chest tightness, increased heart rate, sweating, and shortness of breath.
Bronchiolitis is a common illness of the respiratory tract caused by an infection that affects the tiny airways, called the bronchioles, that lead to the lungs. As these airways become inflamed, they swell and fill with mucus, making breathing difficult.
- most often affects infants and young children because their small airways can become blocked more easily than those of older kids or adults
- typically occurs during the first 2 years of life, with peak occurrence at about 3 to 6 months of age
- is more common in males, children who have not been breastfed, and those who live in crowded conditions
Day-care attendance and exposure to cigarette smoke also can increase the likelihood that an infant will develop bronchiolitis.
Although it's often a mild illness, some infants are at risk for a more severe disease that requires hospitalization. Conditions that increase the risk of severe bronchiolitis include prematurity, prior chronic heart or lung disease, and a weakened immune system due to illness or medications.
Kids who have had bronchiolitis may be more likely to develop asthma later in life, but it's unclear whether the illness causes or triggers asthma, or whether children who eventually develop asthma were simply more prone to developing bronchiolitis as infants. Studies are being done to clarify the relationship between bronchiolitis and the later development of asthma.
Bronchiolitis is usually caused by a viral infection, most commonly respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). RSV infections are responsible for more than half of all cases of bronchiolitis and are most widespread in the winter and early spring. Other viruses associated with bronchiolitis include rhinovirus, influenza (flu), and human metapneumovirus.
The best way to prevent the spread of viruses that can cause bronchiolitis is frequent hand washing. It may help to keep infants away from others who have colds or coughs. Babies who are exposed to cigarette smoke are more likely to develop more severe bronchiolitis compared with those from smoke-free homes.
Therefore, it's important to avoid exposing children to cigarette smoke.