Asthma is a long-standing and common condition. It is estimated that more than 3 million Canadians have asthma. Increasing awareness about the condition is crucial in managing and preventing asthma

We have dedicated this article to answering the common questions associated with asthma.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease that causes the lungs’ airways to swell and become narrow, leading to limited airflow and difficulty in breathing. Asthma is often associated with shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, cough, and wheezing. 

The airways of the lungs are surrounded by muscles and contain mucous glands. The muscles in normal individuals are relaxed; however, if you have asthma, these muscles are often inflamed and sensitive. 

When an asthmatic person comes across triggering factors, the muscles react by further tightening, the airway lining swells and fills up with mucus. Thus, breathing becomes very difficult, leading to asthma exacerbation or asthma symptoms, also known as an asthma attack. 

Living and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, avoiding the triggering factors (risk factors), and working closely with the healthcare team are the best ways to keep asthma at bay.

What are the risk factors of asthma?

An asthma attack is triggered by any of the following mentioned risk factors:

  • Genetics 
  • Respiratory distress syndrome 
  • Low birth weight 
  • High exposure to irritants 
  • Poor air quality 
  • Exposure to tobacco smoke during childhood or pregnancy 
  • Dust mites 
  • Pet hair
  • Mold 
  • Pollen 
  • Physical activity 
  • Stress
  • Change in weather 

What are the types of asthma?

Various types of asthma are described below:

  • Allergic asthma: Allergens trigger this type of asthma. Allergens include pet dander, food, dust, pollen, and mold. Allergic asthma is often seasonal. 
  • Nonallergic asthma: Mainly, air pollutants (irritant gases) trigger this type of asthma. Irritants include cold air, the smoke of air pollution, viral illness, cigarette smoke, air fresheners, cleaning products, perfumes, and burning of wood. 
  • Occupational asthma: Occupational asthma is triggered in the workplace. These include dust, gases, fumes, certain chemicals, animal proteins, and dyes. 
  • Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB): EIB usually occurs within a few minutes of starting exercise or physical activity. Most asthmatics will experience EIB; however, not everyone with EIB will have other types of asthma. 
  • Eosinophilic asthma: Eosinophilic asthma is often associated with high eosinophils (a type of white blood cell). People with eosinophilic asthma do not have any allergies. A specific cause has not been identified for eosinophilic asthma.
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Is asthma an autoimmune disease?

Asthma is a chronic (long-standing) inflammatory disease of the lungs. In contrast, autoimmune disease is a condition where your immune system mistakenly attacks your own body (healthy cells). 

So, asthma is not an autoimmune disease but an anti-inflammatory one.

Is allergic asthma an autoimmune disease?

There are various types of asthma, and allergic asthma is one of the types. An allergen triggers an asthma attack in a person, which is similar to autoimmune disorders (where the body’s immune cells attack your healthy cells). However, allergic asthma is not classified as an autoimmune disease as the cause is totally different.

Is eosinophilic asthma an autoimmune disease?

Eosinophilic asthma is also one type of asthma in which a person’s eosinophils levels are higher than average (eosinophils are a type of white blood cell). 

Individuals with autoimmune disorders may also have high eosinophils. However, eosinophilic asthma is not an autoimmune disease. As with all types of asthma, eosinophilic asthma is an inflammatory condition.

Are asthma, eczema, and autoimmune disorders similar?

Asthma is a long-term obstructive disease of the airways in the lungs. It is characterized by increased mucus production, difficulty in breathing, and the airways becoming narrow and swollen. It is categorized as an inflammatory disorder. 

Eczema, also known as dermatitis, is a skin condition that causes itchiness, inflammation, swelling, and cracked skin. It is also categorized as an inflammatory disorder. 

Lastly, an autoimmune disorder is a condition where the body’s immune cells attack healthy cells. 

They all are three different conditions with different causes.

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