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Asthma, a chronic lung disease which affects 22 million Americans, is scary but treatable
Kirk Lyttle/St. Paul Pioneer Press
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Date published: 4/26/2009
Spotsylvania County resident Kim Knight thought she was about to breathe her last breath. It was 1995, and Knight was in the emergency room, frightened and wheezing.
"It was like I was breathing through a teeny-tiny straw," she said.
Throughout her childhood and early adulthood, Knight had become accustomed to a bit of difficulty breathing due to bad coughs and bronchitis. But she said she had never felt this badly.
Knight stayed in the hospital for six days while doctors treated her with the aid of a nebulizer, a machine that misted oxygen into her lungs. When she was able to leave, she brought with her a new diagnosis--asthma.
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that narrows the airways and causes breathing problems. According to the American Lung Association, 22 million Americans currently suffer from asthma. Seven percent of adults and 9 percent of children in America currently have the disease.
Most cases are allergy-related and are prone to flare-ups during seasonal change, according to Dr. Andrew Kim.
Kim, a Fredericksburg allergy and asthma specialist, said that he has seen 50 patients with asthma complications during the past month.
"Asthma can be triggered by other things like exercise, but 80 [percent] to 90 per cent of cases are allergy-related," Kim said. "I especially see a lot of patients around this time of year."
Asthma affects everyone differently, Kim said. Some people have severe attacks in which they can't breathe at all, while others have chronic shortness of breath or serious bouts of coughing, yet never struggle to breathe so much that they land in the ER.
However, Kim said there are two major reasons for asthma symptoms, in whatever form they take.
"First, there's inflammation of the airways, which is caused by hyper-reactivity to an asthma trigger, like strong smells or cold air," Kim said. "This causes the second part, bronchial spasms."
In order to successfully relieve asthma symptoms, Kim said both components must be addressed.