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For many years, asthma was mistakenly thought to be due to neurosis or hypochondria ( induced by the mind ). On the contrary, it is a serious condition where the airways and lungs become inflamed, preventing the efficient exchange of air ( oxygen in, carbon dioxide out ). The death rate due to asthma has increased steadily for several years and is the most common cause of hospitalization for children. Asthma is also the leading cause of missed days from work and school. There is no cure, but excellent treatment is available. The cause cannot always be determined, but in many cases asthma is an allergic reaction that occurs in the lungs. Widely recognized symptoms of asthma include wheezing, cough, and shortness of breath, which may be triggered by cold air, smoke, exertion, stress, pollution, and various allergens.

Asthmatics cannot usually tell how sick they are until they get into serious trouble. The symptoms of wheezing and shortness of breath do not occur until lung function is seriously compromised and the patient is in danger. For this reason, there are now inexpensive hand-held devices ( peak flow meters ) that allow the objective monitoring of lung function. These devices can show a decrease in lung unction long before the individual notices the problem. The goal is to prevent serious attacks of asthma by treating the inflamed, swollen, blocked airways early. Again, prevention is more effective than treatment to reverse the attack. This is best accomplished by working out a good regimen with a doctor. For rare attacks, some over-the-counter drugs are available for use as noted below.

Active Ingredients for Asthma

Epinephrine. Epinephrine is a hormone produced by the body in response to stress which makes you "ready to go" ( to run or fight ). It is used as a drug for several purposes, including opening the breathing tubes ( airways ) in asthma. It is topically effective and acts very quickly. Because it also constricts blood vessels, it can be used as a decongestant. it is not as selective as newer prescription-only drugs for use as a bronchodilator, so it produces  more side effects, including nervousness and palpitations. Pregnant women: may cause problems. Nursing mothers: passes into breast milk. Seniors: reduced dose may be desirable or increased side effects may occur. Drug interactions: cardiac ( heart ) drugs various interactions ( talk with physician ); antidiabetic drugs decreased effects.

Ephedrine. Ephedrine is a drug that acts by stimulating the release of a natural hormone to shrink blood vessels an relax muscles in the airways, resulting in decongestion and opening of the airway ( bronchodilation ). Newer and more effective drugs are available only by prescription. Pregnant women: safety not established. Nursing mothers: passes into breast milk. Seniors: reduced dose may be desirable, or even better yet, just avoid this drug if possible. Drug interactions: cardiac ( heart ) drugs ( especially digitalis ) various interactions ( talk with physician ); antihypertension drugs ( blood pressure ) decreased effects; MAOI ( monoamine oxidase inhibitor ) drugs ( certain antidepressants ) risk of acute hypertension.

Theophylline. For treatment of asthma, theophylline relaxes the muscles in the airways and stimulates breathing and heart rate. it has additional beneficial effects for the treatment of asthma, but to obtain the maximum benefit, blood levels of this drug must be carefully adjusted. Since effective and toxic doses vary among individuals, but are always close together, the dose must be controlled to avoid toxic effects. A wide variety of adverse effects including nausea, headache, indigestion, and nervousness occur when too much is given. Pregnant women: safety not established. Nursing mothers: passes into breast milk. Seniors: reduced dose may be desirable or increased side effects may occur. Drug interactions: many drugs alter the blood level of theophylline with concurrent use. Do not use without a doctor's care if you have heart disease or diabetes.


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