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Chronic respiratory disorder characterised by recurrent paroxysmal cough, wheezing, chest constriction and labored breathing.
Persons most commonly affected: All age groups except newborn babies, often beginning in early childhood. In childhood, more boys than girls suffer from bronchial asthma but in adult life both sexes are affected equally.
Organ or part of body involved: Airways (bronchi and bronchioles) and lungs.
Symptoms and indications: Breathlessness and a wheezing cough that may be worse at night. In a severe attack, the breathing rate increases considerably and is rapid and shallow. The pulse rate also increases. In a very severe attack, the person may be so breathless as to make speech impossible and may show signs of cyanosis, i.e. a bluish colour of the skin because of lack of oxygen in the blood. Severe asthma attacks can be fatal.
Causes and risk factors: The cause of asthma is swelling and inflammation of the walls of the airways, and contraction of the muscles, so that the openings are narrowed. This is triggered by a hypersensitive response to a number of different allergens. Common allergens include pollen, dust from mites, domestic pets and farm animals and airborne pollutants from e.g. car exhaust emissions. Exercise and stress may also trigger an asthma attack, and the condition is exacerbated by exposure to tobacco smoke.
Prevention: Although there is no way to prevent asthma, several precautions can be taken to reduce the possibility that asthma attack will occur. Allergy testing to determine sensitivity to common environmental agents such as dust, mold, pet hair, and pollen can be done so that allergen can be avoided. Avoiding cigarette smoke and wood-burning fires and sudden changes in temperature also helps in preventing asthma attacks. Eating a simple, light diet, based on foods that do not promote mucus production (raw vegetables and fruits, seeds, whole grains, lean poultry, and fresh fish) is also helpful. Plenty of water should also be drunk by asthma sufferers, as water helps to keep the passages of the lungs moist. Onions and garlic contain quercetin, a flavonoid (a chemical compound/biological response modifier) that inhibits the release of histamine, and should be a part of an asthmatic's diet. Avoid foods that contain additives or preservatives.