Asthma – the disease ensnaring the first world

As the medical world of the west grows ever more accomplished at fighting disease, there is one condition that seems to be just getting worse and worse – but is it? With statistics now calling it the most common chronic illness of the Western world I am going to examine the current and potential treatments for Asthma.

Although medicine has identified that asthma is triggered when an allergen, to which the sufferer is particularly sensitive to, is breathed into the airways, science is not yet able to explain, as with all allergies, how it is that that person ever became particularly sensitive to said allergen. It is also unexplained why the senistivity occurs particularly in the airways. So at present treatment revolves around getting asthma under control, and keeping it that way rather than curing it.

Once the allergen enters the bronchioles (smaller airways in the lungs) it triggers a collossal response and the bronchioles constrict, meaning that the inhaled air cannot then be exhaled. This means that fresh air cannot be inhaled and the sufferer of an asthma attack has extreme difficultly breathing. This often then triggers a panic attack sending the sympathetic nervous system into a state of flux and causing rapid shallow breathing which often makes things worse. The allergen also triggers lots of mucus to be made which further blocks the airways.

Some doctors believe that a person develops asthma when a viral infection damages lung tissue, leading to hypersensitivity to allergens. Other theorists believe that asthma is not understood because it is caused not only by the immune system, but also by the nervous system, the system of the body we arguably know least about.

Another theory is that asthma patients have too great a density of sympathetic neurons than parasympathetic neurons in the lungs. This means that they have more neurons which trigger a stress reaction, than neurons that trigger relaxation. Therefore potentially when the body gets stressed, i.e. during heavy exercise, the sympathetic nervous system goes into a state of high activity, including the neurons in the lungs. and this high activity then triggers the constriction of the airways and so an asthma attack. However the flaw in this theory is that it still does not explain how the neuron imbalance ever came to be and just points back to genetics, which is what happens a lot in biology, when no better answer is known.

So asthma genetic or not? – the difficultly I have with believing its genetic is surely it would have been eliminated hundreds of thousands of years ago by evolution and survival of the fittest. And so now we surface onto the centre of much of the research into asthma: is it caused by the modern western lifestyle? Unfortunately at present it does seem that way: the air pollution; the junk food and the incubated design of our homes which are perfect for breeding dust mites.

So asthma is at present an incurable disease in the clinical notebook, and maybe lifestyle changes, for instance eating fresh food as opposed to processed; eating organic over treated fruit and vegetables; maybe move to the countryside could help. So yes at present the “cure” for this fast spreading chronic disorder seems very wooley.