Asthma is a common medical condition in which the airways become inflamed and constricted, making it difficult to breathe in and out. During an asthma attack, bronchial muscles in the chest contract and the lining of bronchial airway tubes swell. Inflamed, irritated tissue triggers the release of mucus from the bronchial tube lining, which adds to breathing difficulties. Asthma inflammation is usually a reaction to intensive exercise, cold air, or airborne pathogens such as smoke, dust, and pollen.
An asthmatic individual's immune system mistakenly releases antibodies when pathogens or cold air are inhaled, or when breathing is quickened due to physical activity. The antibodies attach to the lining of the bronchial tubes, which causes the tissue to become inflamed and swollen. Asthma inflammation persists as long as the trigger is still present, and symptoms tend to worsen as more and more antibodies are released into the airways.
Doctors usually make a distinction between acute and chronic asthma inflammation. Acute inflammation refers to a single asthma attack, in which the airways immediately constrict and swell. The tissue becomes severely inflamed, making it difficult and sometimes painful for an individual to take in a breath. During an attack, a person might wheeze and cough up mucus released by glands within the bronchial tube lining. Most asthma attacks subside within about five minutes, but it is possible for an episode to last much longer.
Chronic asthma inflammation refers to persistent irritation and swelling of airway tissue. An asthmatic person's lungs and bronchial tubes are constantly inflamed to some degree, which worsens during an acute attack. Without treatment, years of asthma attacks can significantly limit a person's ability to engage in physical activity, such as running and playing sports. In some cases, the airways can become permanently constricted to the point that it is always difficult to breathe, even when avoiding activity and allergic triggers.
There are many effective treatment measures available to help relieve immediate attacks and ease chronic asthma inflammation. Bronchodilators, or inhalers, contain chemicals that can immediately release tension in bronchial muscles and stop the release of antibodies during an attack. When a bronchodilator is used, swelling in the airways subsides and inflamed tissue is soothed. Individuals with severe, chronic asthma can benefit by using specialized inhalers or taking oral medications daily to treat inflammation. Doctors usually schedule regular appointments with asthma sufferers so that their symptoms can be monitored and treatment measures adjusted to ensure their effectiveness.