Asthma Is An Abnormal Immune Response
There have been many theories about asthma over the years. All asthma is nervous, and all asthma is allergic, are two such examples. These are good theories, and they do hold true for some asthmatics. However, based on modern evidence, it now appears that some asthma is nervous, some asthma is allergic, and ALL asthma is the result of an abnormal immune response. Here’s what to know.
Does that mean asthma is an autoimmune disorder?
No! An autoimmune disorder occurs when your immune system cannot tell the difference between pathogens and your own healthy tissue. When this happens, your immune system attacks healthy cells as though they were foreign invaders. This causes these cells to become inflamed and damaged. Examples include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, lupus, type-1 diabetes, ulcerative colitis, and Addison’s disease. However, there is one subgroup of asthma affected here, and it’s called Churg-Strauss Syndrome. But, overall, asthma is not an autoimmune disorder.
So, how is asthma linked to the immune system?
The answer is that asthma is the result of an overactive immune system. It may also be referred to as an overactive immune response. It's overactive to otherwise harmless substances. These substances include allergens like dust mites and mold spores, irritants like cigarette and wood smoke, and pathogens like respiratory viruses. Your immune system attacks these triggers as though they were harmful pathogens. This results in airway inflammation and asthma symptoms.
Why do only some people develop asthma and allergies?
Well, it’s because a small percentage of people worldwide have asthma genes. And I think these genes (or most of them) are not active when we are born. They only become activated when exposed to certain environmental triggers, which would probably include your typical asthma triggers.
A massive exposure to dust mites, for instance, and WHAM! You have allergies, which can become asthma over time. A severe cold, such as RSV, early in your life, and WHAM! You have asthma. Day after day exposure to stress and WHAM! You have asthma. Day after day exposure to (you name the environmental trigger), and WHAM! You have asthma.
How do asthma genes cause asthma?
Genes make proteins that tell cells what to do. Asthma genes tell immune cells what to do. They tell immune cells to treat asthma triggers as harmful pathogens. This is abnormal. It's an abnormal immune response. It results in an immune system that is overactive. It's an overactive immune response.
What is an overactive immune response?
Asthma triggers, like dust mites, are harmless to most people. But, for those with asthma genes, they are treated as harmful pathogens. Airway cells respond to them the same way they respond to pathogens, by releasing chemicals. These chemicals cause airway inflammation. This is needed to trap and kill pathogens. But, in our case, it's not needed. And, worse, this airway inflammation irritates cells in such a way as to causes asthma and asthma symptoms.
What happens during asthma attacks?
Again, it’s an abnormal immune response. Your immune system is "abnormally" trained to recognize one or more asthma trigger. When you are not exposed to them you will probably experience no symptoms at all. So, between attacks, most asthmatics feel no symptoms; their breathing is normal (your asthma is controlled). However, when exposed to asthma triggers, your immune system abnormally recognizes these triggers as harmful and initiates an abnormal immune response.
What is our conclusion?
To be honest, there really is no conclusion here. In fact, what I just described is just the beginning, at least as far as what researchers are learning about our disease. In upcoming posts, I will delve a little deeper into this subject, and perhaps even show you how this information should lead to better asthma medicine -- perhaps even an eventual cure. So, stay tuned!
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