What is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic (long-term) lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways. Asthma causes recurring periods of wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing. The coughing often occurs at night or early in the morning.
Asthma affects people of all ages, but it most often starts during childhood. In the United States, more than 25 million people are known to have asthma. About 7 million of these people are children.
To understand asthma, it helps to know how the airways work. The airways are tubes that carry air into and out of your lungs. People who have asthma have inflamed airways. The inflammation makes the airways swollen and very sensitive. The airways 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 might make more mucus than usual. Mucus is a sticky, thick liquid that can further narrow the airways.
This chain reaction can result in asthma symptoms. Symptoms can happen each time the airways are inflamed.
Sometimes asthma symptoms are mild and go away on their own or after minimal treatment with asthma medicine. Other times, symptoms continue to get worse.
When symptoms get more intense and/or more symptoms occur, you’re having an asthma attack. Asthma attacks also are called flareups or exacerbations.
Treating symptoms when you first notice them is important. This will help prevent the symptoms from worsening and causing a severe asthma attack. Severe asthma attacks may require emergency care, and they can be fatal.
Asthma has no cure. Even when you feel fine, you still have the disease and it can flare up at any time.
However, with today’s knowledge and treatments, most people who have asthma are able to manage the disease. They have few, if any, symptoms. They can live normal, active lives and sleep through the night without interruption from asthma.
If you have asthma, you can take an active role in managing the disease. For successful, thorough, and ongoing treatment, build strong partnerships with your doctor and other health care providers.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Asthma?
Common signs and symptoms of asthma include:
- Coughing. Coughing from asthma often is worse at night or early in the morning, making it hard to sleep.
- Wheezing. Wheezing is a whistling or squeaky sound that occurs when you breathe.
- Chest tightness. This may feel like something is squeezing or sitting on your chest.
- Shortness of breath. Some people who have asthma say they can’t catch their breath or they feel out of breath. You may feel like you can’t get air out of your lungs.
Not all people who have asthma have these symptoms. Likewise, having these symptoms doesn’t always mean that you have asthma. The best way doctors have to diagnose asthma is to use a lung function test, ask about medical history (including type and frequency of symptoms), and do a physical exam.
The type of asthma symptoms you have, how often they occur, and how severe they are may vary over time. Sometimes your symptoms may just annoy you. Other times, they may be troublesome enough to limit your daily routine.
Severe symptoms can be fatal. Thus, treating symptoms when you first notice them is important, so they don’t become severe.
With proper treatment, most people who have asthma can expect to have few, if any, symptoms either during the day or at night.
What Causes Asthma Symptoms To Occur?
Many things can trigger or worsen asthma symptoms. Your doctor will help you find out which things (called triggers) may cause your asthma to flare up if you come in contact with them. Triggers can include:
- Allergens from dust mites, animal fur, cockroaches, mold, and pollens from trees, grasses, and flowers
- Irritants such as cigarette smoke, air pollution, chemicals or dust in the workplace, compounds in home décor products, and sprays (such as hairspray)
- Medicines such as aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and nonselective beta-blockers
- Sulfites in foods and drinks
- Viral upper respiratory infections, such as colds
- Physical activity, including exercise
Other health conditions can make asthma harder to manage. Examples of these conditions include a runny nose, sinus infections, reflux disease, psychological stress, and sleep apnea. These conditions should be treated as part of an overall asthma care plan.
Asthma is different for each person. Some of the triggers listed above may not affect you. Other triggers that do affect you might not be on the list. Talk with your doctor about the things that seem to make your asthma worse.
Information from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/