When a person has bronchial asthma, the bronchial tubes are narrowed by spasm of the muscles and excess secretion from the mucous glands. As air is forced through these narrowed tubes a wheezing sound is heard. Air is more easily drawn in than expelled. Since part of the air is trapped, it accumulates and the lungs grow larger. The still air in the lung makes oxygenation more difficult and the blue color that denotes lack of oxygen appears.
This form of asthma runs in families. The patient with bronchial asthma usually reports that he had eczema or hay fever when younger or was sensitive to various substances. The symptoms usually come on and are worse at night. The secretion accumulates at night. Because of the difficulty in breathing, the asthmatic person sits up and bends forward with elbows on the table, in which position he breathes more easily.
The asthmatic attack may last for hours or days. It is relieved by the use of epinephrine or adrenalin. Dr. Harry Alexander distinguishes three types of bronchial asthma. The mild form is limited merely to a persistent cough with a few paroxysms of bronchial spasm and wheezing. The second form is most serious, beginning with sieges of coughing at night and proceeding to severe bronchial spasms with shortness of breath. The patient finds difficulty in eating and sleeping and drinking and loses weight rapidly. In the third type, secondary infection comes in and is responsible for additional symptoms.
Bronchial asthma should be treated promptly and seriously in order to prevent the permanent changes that develop in the lungs in long-continued cases. Everything possible must be done to detect and eliminate the sensitizing substance.