The Long-term Effects of Asthma on Your Health

Updated at: Dec 08, 2014
The Long-term Effects of Asthma on Your Health

Asthma is a chronic lung disease with symptoms such as tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, coughing and/or wheezing. However, the asthmatic's lungs can become permanently altered if the symptoms are not well-controlled.

Ariba Khaliq
AsthmaWritten by: Ariba KhaliqPublished at: Dec 08, 2014

An asthma sufferer or their loved ones would be well aware that asthma is a long-lasting and recurrent illness. It is a chronic condition and it can never be completely cured. However, with a few steps, asthma symptoms and its long-term effects can be controlled and limited. In this post, we shall inform you about the long-term effects of asthma, in addition to some tips to help prevent these complications.

To start with, it's important to define asthma as a condition that consists of three major symptoms:

  • Increased mucous produced in the lungs
  • Tightening of muscles that surround the small airways
  • Swelling of the small airways

Each of these elements can impact your long-term health in different ways. Here’s how.

Long-term Effects of Asthma on Your Health

Reason for More Mucous Production

Lung cells release cytokines, which are mediator chemicals leading to increased levels of mucous in the airway. The mucous can occupies the airway, resulting in the wheeze and cough that you feel when you have an asthma attack.

To get a long-term perspective, know that this mucous increases the risk that an infection like pneumonia may spring up. These infections reoccur and can lead to complexities, such as resistance to antibiotics and scarring of the lungs themselves. Such scarring is permanent and may lead to irreversible lung damage.

You may prevent the collection of mucous by preventing asthma attacks. And, use of controller medications is the best bet for accomplishing this. These medications help prevent asthma attacks by controlling inflammation and decreasing mucous production. Inhalers like Advair, Symbicort and Flovent are some examples of such medicines. If you don’t let the mucous to increase, you can decrease the chance of getting pneumonia or bronchitis. Your allergist can tell you a great deal about your asthma, and discuss the potential use of a controller medication to prevent long-term damage.

How Asthma Results into Chest Tightness and Wheezing

The lungs of an asthma patient experience inflammation that causes swelling of the airways. During the asthma attack, cytokines have a pro-inflammatory effect. They act in a positive-feedback-loop, pulling more inflammatory cells into the lungs. The higher the level of inflammation in the lungs, the harder it is for the asthmatic to breathe.

Complications of Asthma

Bronchospasm or tightening of muscles around the airways is a chronic process, which can lead to a diminished exercise tolerance. Over time, this exercise intolerance can lead to higher rates of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and other conditions that are associated with a sedentary lifestyle.

A person suffering from exercise-induced asthma can easily control the process. You could use your albuterol 10-15 minutes before exercise or during exercise, if you have to. This can take care of your symptoms, but you’ll still be a slow runner. Other medications like inhaled steroids can help you if the albuterol fails to make a difference. Discuss any exercise-related asthma concerns with your allergist  because your asthma should never get in the way of healthy physical activity.

Scarring of the Lungs

Chronic inflammation in the lung may ultimately result in permanent damage. A possible long-term effect of asthma on the lungs is tissue scarring. Cells called fibroblasts divide and deposit material in the lungs of asthma sufferer. Known as airway fibriosis, or more commonly called tissue scarring, this phenomenon can cause further obstruction of the airway if scarred tissue builds up too much. Inhaled corticosteroids help reduce inflammation, and so, they can ultimately prevent scarring in the lungs.

Side Effects of Asthma

The Biggest Concern about Uncontrolled Asthma

Sure, increased mucous and tight muscles are problematic, but severe swelling of the airways is the most dangerous long-term effect of asthma. A process known as airway remodeling can occur over many years, leading to eventual scarring of the lungs.

In a case like this, just like lung infections, the normal tissue of the lungs is substituted with scar tissue. Scar tissue does not work like normal lungs do, leaving patients with intense lung damage in some cases. Over many years, some of these patients experience substantial disability as a result.

As with the raised mucous production, in the case of airway remodeling, attaining better asthma control is the best way to prevent long-term complications. You should have rescue medications available when necessary, in addition to your asthma controller medication. Proper use of asthma medications should allow you to live an active healthy lifestyle, with few asthma-related symptoms.

Images: Getty

Read more articles on Understand Asthma.


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