Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the lining of the bronchioles, the airways of the lungs. The lining of the airway becomes inflamed and swollen and produces extra mucus. Episodes of asthma or flares occur when the airway narrows as a result of the mucus and inflammation, making it difficult to breathe. With proper medications and management, the inflammation and narrowing are reversible.
Asthma affects approximately 7-10% of children and half of the people with asthma are diagnosed before age 10 years. The rate of asthma has increased by about 60% in the past two decades. There are many theories which exist as to why there has been an increase in the incidence of asthma, but no one simple answer as of yet.
During an asthma attack, symptoms may range from mild wheezing to severe, life-threatening obstruction. Asthma attacks are usually triggered by allergens, environmental exposures, and/or respiratory tract infections.
Known asthma triggers include:
- Viral infections such colds and influenza
- Allergens such as pollen, mold, animal dander, dust mites, and cockroaches
- Irritants such as strong odors, chemicals, tobacco smoke, and air pollutants
Symptoms of asthma may differ somewhat in adults and children and from person to person. The severity and duration of symptoms vary from mild to severe. Common symptoms of asthma include wheezing, chest tightness and/or pain, shortness of breath, frequent cough particularly at night and after exercise, and anxiety.
Asthma can be controlled by modifying the environment to alleviate or minimize triggers and through medications. Medications such as inhaled corticosteroids, leukotrine modifiers, and mast cell inhibitors decrease inflammation in the airways and are known as controller medications. Medications called bronchodilators are medications used to decrease airway constriction and are known as rescue medications. Most asthmatics are treated with a combination of these medications.
We recommend the following websites for asthma information: