A-Z List

Comparison of Normal Function of Lungs with Description of How Asthma Effects Pulmonary Status

Oxygen is inhaled and circulated through a network of bronchial tubes. Lined along the bronchial tubes are tiny, hairlike structures called cilia. These cilia carry out irritants (dust, smoke particles, pollutants) and mucus to be expelled. At the end of the bronchial tubes are the alveoli, elastic air sacs that expand to take air in and contract to let air out. Surrounding the alveoli are capillaries or small blood vessels that take the oxygen from the alveoli and replace it with carbon dioxide.

All parts of this network are affected by asthma. The bronchial tubes narrow as a result of muscle spasms and swelling of the tube tissues. Mucus that is collected by the cilia clogs smaller tubes. The result is that airways to the alveoli are restricted and the carbon dioxide is trapped – oxygen cannot replace it. Dyspnea, labored breathing, results. As the reaction continues, more mucus is produced to dispel the irritant but the restricted passages do not allow for proper expulsion.

Respiratory oppression results when a person cannot draw a deep breath due to tightening of the muscles. Difficulty at this level often goes unnoticed. Wheezing and repeated attacks of allergic rhinitis, nose inflammation, or bronchitis occur in the second stage. Air hunger is caused by difficulty in breathing. The third stage involves the climax of the attack with many symptoms, including coughing, severe shortness of breath, oral expulsion of thick mucus and sometimes gasping voice, cold sweat on the face, blueish nailbeds and lips.  

To diagnose the severity of an attack, a combination of measures are used, including a bedside evaluation of respiratory distress, monitoring of arterial blood gases and bedside pulmonary function tests. Consult your agency or hospital to find out what tests are used and what stages are used. One common staging includes 4 categories: mild, moderate, severe, and respiratory failure.