Short-Term Cause and Long-Term Effects
Understanding the long-term effects begins with understanding the short-term cause of an asthma flare-up, also called an exacerbation. Your respiratory system consists of gradually decreasing airways, which for an asthmatic, become overly sensitive and tends to easily become inflamed and narrowed. This narrowing is what makes breathing difficult, causing wheezing, coughing and that breathless feeling, as well as impairing oxygen exchange. This reaction is brought on by exposure to something the asthmatic is sensitive to called an allergen such as pet dander, mold, pollen, chemicals, dust, cockroaches, aspirin, sulfites, cigarette smoke or other irritants, as well as stress, cold and exercise.
The most prevalent long-term effect of chronic asthma is permanent narrowing of the bronchi and bronchioles called airway remodeling. This happens as a result of persistent inflammation causing the loss or destruction of bronchioles and the build-up of scar tissue. This narrowing creates a steady decline in lung function, reducing the surface area needed for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, which eventually causes pulmonary hypertension. The damage gradually makes it more difficult to breathe, initially on exertion, then eventually with everyday activities.
Medication Side Effects
Long term side-effects from non-steroidal drugs used to treat asthma generally do not impact your long-term health. Bronchodilators for instance, used to relax the muscles of your airway in response to inflammation, may cause a short-term increase in heart-rate--each person reacts differently to different medications. You should always tell your physician if you have a reaction to a medication. In general, non-steroidal treatments given for asthma have few significant side-effects, particularly if given by inhalation. However, the one exception is oral corticosteroids. Long-term use of these medications is uncommon, unless you have significant problems with asthma control. Individuals on long-term steroids are at an increased risk for hypertension, osteoporosis, cataracts, poor wound healing and more. The pros and cons of taking steroids long term should be discussed with your physician.
Because the symptoms and severity of chronic asthma may cause damage to delicate lung tissue, and affect the way your body uses oxygen and releases carbon dioxide, early intervention and an effective asthma-management program is critically important. By taking an active role in managing your disease and working with your physician to develop a comprehensive asthma action plan, you can live a normal, active and healthy life.