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bronchial asthma[′bräŋ·kē·əl ′az·mə]
an allergic disease characterized by repeated attacks of dyspnea caused by a spasm of the bronchi and edema of their mucous membrane.
Bronchial asthma is caused by increased sensitivity of the body, particularly the bronchial tissues, to various, usually harmless substances called allergens. Bronchial asthma is most often caused by allergens such as household and industrial dust, pollen, spores from fungi, bits of hair from domestic animals, and microorganisms inhabiting the upper respiratory tract and human bronchi.
A hereditary predisposition to allergic manifestations is very important in the development of bronchial asthma. Allergens cause attacks of dyspnea characterized by difficulty in exhalation and breathing with a whistling sound; the face turns blue, and the veins on the neck swell. At the end of an attack, after half an hour to an hour, a hacking cough begins, and a small quantity of transparent, viscous sputum is discharged. In some cases the attacks last several days; this is called an asthmatic condition (protracted asthma). As the disease progresses, the irritability of the nervous system increases. Attacks of bronchial asthma may occur even without the influence of an allergen, as a result of a change in the weather, a temperature drop, physical strain, and negative emotions. Bronchial asthma is usually chronic and is often complicated by pulmonary emphysema, the swelling of the connective tissue around the bronchi, and changes in the muscle of the right ventricle of the heart resulting in the development of cardiac insufficiency.
Attacks of bronchial asthma are usually successfully eliminated by the administration of spasmolytic drugs. In the interval between attacks, treatment concentrates on controlling allergies. In order to identify the allergens causing the disease, doctors carefully ascertain under what conditions the patient suffers an attack; in early stages of the disease this information can help to identify the allergen. Doctors also give skin and sensitizing allergic diagnostic tests (the supposed allergen is introduced subcutaneously or by inhalation in aerosol form). If the allergen is discovered, doctors recommend that it be eliminated from the patient’s surroundings or body (by change of profession, change of apartment, treatment of infections, and so forth). If this is not possible, a lowering of sensitivity to the allergen (desensitization) is achieved with injections of an extract of the allergen in gradually increasing doses. In certain cases hormonal preparations are used. Breathing exercises are highly beneficial for bronchial asthma patients. Treatment at a health resort in a midmountain climate with a low humidity is recommended, except at times when the disease is aggravated.
REFERENCESSovremennaia prakticheskaia allergologiia. Edited by A. D. Ado and A. A. Pol’nera. Moscow, 1963.
Bulatov, P. K. Bronkhial’naia astma. Leningrad, 1964.
Criep, L. Klinicheskaia immunologiia i allergiia. Moscow, 1966. (Translated from English.)
N. V. ADRIANOVA