Asthma and Bronchoconstriction

Asthmatics have to deal with many frustrating symptoms due to their condition, but few actually take the time to understand the most common ones like Bronchoconstriction. Bronchoconstriction is perhaps the most frequent immediate symptom asthmatics experience after being exposed to an asthmatic trigger. Knowing the what, why, and treatment methods associated with bronchoconstriction is important for any asthmatic looking to maintain control of their asthma. We have put this article together to help you more thoroughly understand the ins and outs of bronchoconstriction.

Woman with breathing difficulties

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What Is Bronchoconstriction?

Simply put, bronchoconstriction is the term the medical community uses to define the narrowing of the airways that happens during an asthma attack. Bronchoconstriction can lead to asthmatic symptoms/attacks and generally needs to be addressed with medication to relieve acute symptoms and then needs to be prevented.

Causes of Bronchoconstriction in Asthmatics

The restriction associated with bronchoconstriction happens inside of the bronchioles, which are tubes that allow air to flow in and out of the lungs. Smooth muscles within these bronchioles become tightly squeezed when the body is exposed to triggers with the inflammation associated with someone’s asthma. When these bronchioles become tightened and narrow, your airflow becomes blocked, which leads to shortness of breath, wheezing, cough, chest tightness, and even asthma attacks in some cases.

How Bronchoconstriction Can Be Avoided

Avoiding bronchoconstriction can be done without the use of medication in several ways. The biggest effort you must make in your daily life is to avoid common triggers of your asthma, as they will likely lead to bronchoconstriction and associated asthma symptoms.

For those readers who participate in sports, there are several key suggestions to keep in mind when trying to avoid bronchoconstriction. Firstly, you should try and participate in sports that have short bursts of exercise (or low minute ventilation). Such sports include things such as wrestling, sprinting, football. Soccer, basketball, and hockey can all be very difficult for asthmatics that do not have a strong control over their symptoms. Finally, warming up before exercise/sports sessions are highly recommended and may help prevent exercise-induced asthma symptoms.

Cold weather exercise is generally more difficult for those who suffer from asthma. However, with the use of a heat exchange mask, you can limit the amount of cold air exposure you retain during exercise in cold weather. Make sure you talk with your healthcare provider if you think you might want to try out this way to decrease exposure to cold weather. However, this does not appear as effective as the pre-exercise use of a rescue inhaler.

How Can Medication Reverse Bronchoconstriction?

By using the proper medications such as your rescue inhaler, you can easily reverse bronchoconstriction, which will allow you to recover properly in the case of an asthma attack.

The most common medical treatment for bronchoconstriction comes from the use of beta-agonists acutely and inhaled corticosteroids chronically. Powdered and vapor inhalants delivered via inhaler mechanisms are usually used to induce this medicine, and this route is the most popularly used treatment for bronchoconstriction in asthmatics.

A lesser used, but highly effective treatment for bronchoconstriction is found in mast cell stabilizers such as cromolyn.

In addition to these common treatments, the following medical approaches can be used: leukotriene receptor antagonists, and ipratropium. Ultimately, you should consult your primary healthcare provider or asthma treatment specialist to ensure that the treatment you have chosen is the best option for your personal asthmatic needs.

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By Pat Bass, MD
Dr. Bass is a board-certified internist, pediatrician, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Physicians.