What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that affects more than 25 million people in the United States.  Asthma interferes with breathing by inflaming, thereby narrowing the airways.  Asthma is typically characterized by episodes of breathlessness and wheezing.  When these episodes are more serious, they are known as asthma attacks.  Because the trouble starts from chronic inflammation in the airways that carry air to the lungs, it is good to know how these airways work.


The airways are tubes that carry air to and from the lungs.  For those with asthma, these tubes become swollen or inflamed.   Because of this inflammation, the airways tend to be more sensitive than those without asthma.  When certain substances, like allergens, are inhaled the airways react strongly by tightening and narrowing.  This will create the feeling air restriction or breathlessness, as less air flows to the lungs.  If swelling gets worse, the airways will get even more tight and narrow. 

Symptoms of an Asthma Attack:

• Wheezing

• Shortness of breath

• Tightness in the chest

• Uncontrollable coughing

In severe cases, an asthma attack can be life-threatening or even fatal.  If there are signs your body isn’t getting enough oxygen, (like blue fingertips) emergency treatment to open the airways and restore oxygen levels is necessary.


Managing asthma:

There is no cure for asthma, but there as some ways to manage the symptoms and avoid serious asthma attacks. Knowing the triggers and being able to avoid these things can help dramatically. These are some common triggers of asthma and asthma attacks:

• Mold

• Dust mites

• Pollen from trees or flowers

• Foods such as peanuts, eggs, fish

• Pets 

• Air pollution

• Weather (very humid or very dry)

• Exercise (can choose exercises that don’t induce a bad reaction, or use an inhaler to minimize the symptoms)

Besides avoiding allergens like the ones mentioned above, allergy shots can help you manage and lesson some symptoms.  Daily medication in the form of corticosteroids is available, as avoiding triggers 24/7 is virtually impossible, to prevent asthma attacks and reduce inflammation in the airways.  For attacks, there is also something that is called a “rescue inhaler” which will provide quick relief of symptoms by relaxing the muscles around the tightened airways.

Typically, asthma develops in childhood, although it can appear at any point in life.  Similarly, it is more common in boys than in girls.  Having family history of allergies or asthma can also increase the chances of developing the chronic illness.  For adults, working in environments that have a lot of industrial inhalants, chemicals and dusts, can increase your risk of developing asthma. Smoking, or being exposed to second hand smoke will increase your risk as well, at any age.