Asthma: Redefining this silent killer


Daisy Bernstein

Date: 21.09.2017

Asthma kills 10 people in the United States every day, and many of these deaths are avoidable. It is time to redefine the disease and bring diagnosis and treatment into the 21st century, says an international panel of experts.

There is, in fact, no such thing as one disease called asthma. Instead, asthma is an umbrella term for inflammation and swelling of the airways, which can result in a range of symptoms. 

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 7.6 percent of adults and 8.4 percent of children in the U.S. have asthma. And in 2015, 3,615 people in the country died from it.

Worryingly, asthma kills indiscriminately. Anyone with asthma is at risk, and individuals with mild or moderate asthma - including those with few symptoms, who do not routinely take medication - die at roughly the same rate as those who are under specialist care due to their symptoms.

In a Clinical Commission report published in The Lancet, an international panel of experts criticizes the way that doctors view and treat asthma, saying that little progress has been made in the past 20 years.

So, why is asthma medicine stuck in the last century? Find out why experts think that it's time to redefine the term asthma, and why patients and doctors need to take an active part to make this a reality.

What asthma feels like

Experiencing asthma is a very personal journey; no two individuals have exactly the same triggers or symptoms, and one person's asthma attack might be very different from one day to the next.

Ezra Kirk - from Bath, in the United Kingdom - is heavily asthmatic. He told Medical News Todaythat his asthma attacks give him "[a] tight chest and [tight] shoulders, pressure everywhere above the diaphragm, including the face and head, a constant grasping for breath, and an inability to breath deeply."

Hannah Bastick - from Brighton, also in the U.K. - has a 2-year-old daughter who has been to hospital several times since birth with severe wheezing. "An attack is very scary as a parent," she told MNT. "I couldn't leave her to sleep by herself when it's obvious how little oxygen is getting into her lungs."

Her daughter's symptoms are triggered by severe colds, and she has been officially diagnosed with virally induced wheeze. "When she gets a bad cold, she becomes permanently wheezy within 24 hours," Ms. Bastick explained.

"It becomes increasingly severe until we don't feel safe enough for her to sleep unwatched, so we take her to the hospital. By this stage, her breathing is very labored and she 'grunts' with every [exhalation]."

The number of new asthma cases has been steadily rising since the 1980s. The condition is the third-ranking reason for children to be admitted to hospital, and it kills 10 U.S. individuals every single day.

This material was created exclusively for WorldHealthNews project by Daisy Bernstein.

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