Gasping for breath

breathing breath
Credit: Pixabay

HEALTH experts are concerned about the growing incidence of asthma all over the world. According to the Geneva-based World Health Organization, the current number of people suffering from asthma is between 100 to 150 million. Worldwide, deaths from this condition have reached over 180,000 annually.

In the Philippines, asthma—which has a prevalence rate of about 12 percent—affects some 8 million children. Of the 56 countries, which participated in the phase 1 of International Study on Asthma and Allergies in Children, the Philippines ranked 32nd in “self-reported asthma.”

A nationwide study conducted by the University of Santo Tomas showed that about 12.4 percent of children aged 14 to 15 years old are afflicted with asthma. Overall, 1 out of 10 Filipinos has asthma, based on a Philippine General Hospital survey. 

“This is alarming, for it means schoolchildren may have their performance in school affected, and young adults may lose out on job opportunities and decrease their earning potential due to their ailment. If not treated early, children who are affected with the disease will become disabled,” said asthma special ist Dr. Dina Diaz of the Lung Center of the Philippines.

“It is regrettable that people often take asthma for granted, until such time when the disorder is already very serious or even life-threaten ing,” deplores Dr. Felicidad Cua Lim, president of the National Asthma Movement and founding president of the Philippine Society of Allerology and Immunology.

Doctors are not exactly certain how a person gets asthma. But they do know that once a person has it, his lungs react to things that can start an asthma attack. For instance, when someone has asthma, he might get an asthma attack when he has a cold (or some other kind of respiratory infection). Or, he might get an attack when he breathes something that bothers his lungs (such as cigarette smoke, dust or feathers). 

Doctors tell us that when there’s an asthma attack, three changes take place in our lungs: 

First, the cells in our air tubes make more mucus than normal. This mucus is very thick and sticky.  It tends to clog up the tubes.

Second, the air tubes tend to swell, just as skin swells when we get a scrape. And last, the muscles in our air tubes tighten. These changes cause the air tubes to narrow. This makes it hard to breathe.

Asthma attacks may start suddenly. Or they may take a long time, even days, to develop. Attack scan be severe, moderate or mild. 

“The treatment of asthma varies according to the severity of the problem,” wrote Drs. Donald M. Vickery and James F. Fries in Take Care of Yourself. “Some people have only one or two episodes of asthma and are never troubled again. Other people will have daily attacks. These severely compromise their ability to function normally.”

Some physicians maintain that children never truly outgrow asthma, but the evidence is otherwise. Drs. Vickery and Fries noted: “More than half of the children diagnosed as having asthma will never have an asthmatic attack as an adult. Another 10 percent will have only occasional attacks during adult life.” 

Because asthma is a chronic condition, it usually requires continuous medical care. Patients with moderate to severe asthma have to take long-term medication daily (for example, anti-inflammatory drugs) to control the underlying inflammation and prevent symptoms and attacks. If symptoms occur, short-term medications are used to relieve them.

Corticosteroid drugs (steroids, prednisone) are effective in severe asthmatic patients. They block the smooth muscle contractions that narrow the airway passages. Unfortunately, these drugs have many side effects, including growth retardation. 

Unknowingly, many people have lived tremendously productive lives in spite of their asthma. From Hollywood, among those I know who are or were asthmatics include Steve Allen, Loni Anderson, Jason Alexander, Morgan Fairchild, Bob Hope, Martin Scorsese, Paul Sorvino, Sharon Stone and Orson Welles. These Oscar-winning stars used to have a bout with asthma attacks: Helen Hayes, Diane Keaton, Liza Minnelli, Elizabeth Taylor and Moses Gunn. 

At least five US presidents were asthmatics, namely: Martin Van Buren, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, John F. Kennedy and Theodore Roosevelt. Former Vice President Walter Mondale also had the same problem. Peter the Great of Russia and William IV, king of England, were not spared from “twitchy airways.”

Other politicians afflicted with asthma include Benjamin Disraeli (former Prime Minister of Britain), Ernesto “Che” Guevera (Latin American revolutionary), Rev. Jesse Jackson, John Paul Jones (American Revolutionary War hero and considered to be the Father of US Navy), John Locke (early American statesman), Seneca (Roman statesman) and Daniel Webster. 

Some of those Olympic winners were not spared from asthma: Rick DeMont (swimmer), Virginia Gilder (rower), Nancy Hogshead (swimmer), Bill Koch (cross-country skier), Bruce Davidson (equestrian), Kurt Grote (swimmer), Nancy Hogshead (swimmer), Jackie Joyner-Kersee (track and field), Greg Louganis (diver), Debbie Meyer (swimmer), Art Monk (NFL football player), George Murray (Boston Marathon winner, wheelchair athlete), Rob Muzzio (decathlon), Theresa Zabell (yachting), Alex Zulle (cycling) and Amy Van Dyken (swimming).

Here are more athletes: Tom Dolan, Art Monk (NFL football player) and George Murray (Boston Marathon winner, wheelchair athlete), Jim “Catfish” Hunt).

Asthma did not stop Judy Collins, Alice Cooper, Kenny G. and Billy Joel to make a career from singing. 


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