When we breathe, air travels through our nose and mouth, down the trachea, into the bronchus and then into increasingly smaller airways called terminal bronchioles. These airway passages are surrounded by bands of smooth muscle tissue. The size of an airway may be controlled by the transmission of molecules, called neurotransmitters, from a neuron to the smooth muscle cells surrounding the airway. A specific chemical like acetylcholine is released from the neuron and binds to receptors in the smooth muscle cells. Once bound, it causes the airway to constrict. In people with asthma, the inside of the airways become inflamed, mucus develops and the smooth muscles tighten making it difficult to breathe. When we eat, food travels through the mouth, down the esophagus, and into the stomach. The stomach produces acid which helps with the breakdown of food. Nerve cells send signals to the stomach to determine how much acid to release. Multiple factors can cause an overproduction of stomach acid, potentially leading to stomach ulcers. These sores weaken the protective mucus coating of the stomach allowing acid to get through to the sensitive lining beneath. Anticholinergics are drugs often prescribed to treat both asthma and stomach ulcers. During an asthma attack, these drugs block acetylcholine from binding to its receptor. This action prevents signaling to the smooth muscle cells, causing the muscles to relax and the airway to open. Anticholinergics act similarly on stomach ulcers by blocking the nerve signals that stimulate acid secretion. Additional benefits may include a reduction in muscle spasms and cramping. Coughing and dry mouth are the most common side effects. It is recommended to consult a physician before taking any Anticholinergic medication.
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