Idris Elba Given Emergency Treatment for Asthma

Actor Idris Elba had to be removed from a South Africa-bound plane this past weekend when he suffered an asthma attack. The 41 year old actor, who is best known for portraying drug lord and aspiring businessman Russell “Stringer” Bell in the critically acclaimed HBO series The Wire, and Detective John Luther in the BBC One series Luther, was on his way to the premiere of his new Nelson Mandela biopic, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Elba plays the Mr. Mandela alongside actress Naomie Harris.

Elba told SkyNews:

I’ve battled asthma most of my life and it just overwhelmingly took me down on Friday while I was sitting on a plane… It was a very scary moment for me. A doctor on the plane helped me through it. Thankfully I am here.

Although he missed a press conference, he arrived in Johannesburg in time for the movie premiere, which he watched with Nelson Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel, and his ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Nelson Mandela did not attend the premiere as he is still listed in critical condition at his home.

Asthma is a chronic disease of the lungs which affects 22 million Americans.

Asthma causes recurrent episodes of wheezing (a whistling sound with breathing), chest tightness, shortness of breath and coughing. The coughing often occurs at night or early in the morning.

People who have asthma have inflamed airways. This makes the airways swollen and very sensitive. They tend to react strongly to certain inhaled substances.

When the airways react, the muscles around them tighten. This narrows the airways, causing less air to flow into the lungs. The swelling also can worsen, making the airways even narrower. Cells in the airways may make more mucus than normal. This sticky, thick liquid narrows the airways even more.

This chain reaction can result in asthma symptoms. Symptoms can happen any time the airways are inflamed.

Figure A shows the location of the lungs and airways in the body. Figure B shows a cross-section of a normal airway. Figure C shows a cross-section of an airway during asthma symptoms. (Source: NHLBI)




What triggers asthma?

There are many triggers for asthma, the most common of which include:

  • Upper respiratory infections like colds and flu
  • Exposure to allergens, such as dust, animal dander, mold
  • Exercise
  • Stress and strong emotions
  • Inhalation of irritating substances such as smoke, aerosols. air pollution
  • Cold temperatures
  • Gastroesophageal reflux (a condition where stomach acids back up into the esophagus)

 What is the prognosis for asthma?

Asthma is a long-term disease for which there is no cure. The goal of asthma treatment is to control the disease. Good asthma control will:

  • Prevent chronic and troublesome symptoms, such as coughing and shortness of breath
  • Reduce the need for quick-relief medicines (see our story about asthma medications by clicking here.)
  • Help  maintain good lung function
  • Let patients maintain a normal activity level and sleep through the night
  • Prevent asthma attacks that could result in an emergency room visit or hospital stay

For more information about asthma, click here to go to the Resounding Health Casebook on the topic.

You can also watch this Google+ Hangout about asthma with physicians and experts  from the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Do you or someone you know have asthma? What triggers it for you? How do you deal with the disease?

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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