Asthma is a chronic condition that causes inflammation and narrowing of the bronchial tubes, the passageways that allow air to enter and leave the lungs. If you frequently experience shortness of breath or you hear a whistling or wheezy sound in your chest when you breathe, you may have asthma.
Nearly 26 million Americans are affected by asthma symptoms. Asthma is one of the leading causes of absences from work and school. Asthma often runs in families; according to the World Health Organization, about half the cases are due to genetic susceptibility and half result from environmental factors. Although asthma cannot be cured, it can be well controlled with effective treatments.
There are two types of asthma: allergic asthma (caused by exposure to an allergen) and nonallergic asthma (caused by stress, exercise, illnesses like a cold, or exposure to extreme weather, irritants in the air or some medications).
What Are the Symptoms of Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic disease that inflames the airways. This means that people with asthma generally have inflammation that is long lasting and needs managing. An asthma attack can happen at any time. Mild symptoms may only last a few minutes while more severe asthma symptoms can last hours or days.
Common symptoms of asthma include:
- Wheezing (a whistling or squeaky sound in your chest when you breathe, especially when exhaling)
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid breathing
- Chest tightness, pain, or pressure
Avoid Asthma Triggers
People with asthma have very sensitive airways that react to many different things in the environment called “asthma triggers”. Contact with these triggers cause asthma symptoms to start or worsen. The following are common triggers for asthma:
- Infections such as sinusitis, cold, and flu
- Outdoor allergens, such as pollens from grass, trees and weeds
- Indoor allergens, such as pet dander, dust mites and mold
- Irritants such as strong odors from perfumes or cleaning solutions, and air pollution
- Irritants in the air, such as smoke, chemical fumes and strong odors
- Exercise (known as exercise-induced asthma)
- Weather conditions, such as cold air or extremely dry, wet or windy weather
- Strong emotions such as anxiety, laughter or crying, stress
- Certain drugs and food additives
Asthma Management and Treatment
A person with asthma should know what situations trigger an asthma attack and avoid them whenever possible. If asthma attacks are severe, are unpredictable or flare up more than twice a week, consultation with an allergist can help to determine their cause and provide long-term treatment that controls or eliminates the symptoms. Many people with asthma manage the condition well and can live a healthy and productive life by avoiding triggers and following their allergist’s instructions. If left unmanaged or misdiagnosed, asthma can be fatal; about 3,300 people die from it annually.
If you suspect that you have asthma, see your doctor. Your doctor may refer you to an asthma specialist, also known as a pulmonologist. He or she can examine you and run tests for asthma to determine if you have it.
If an asthma diagnosis is made, there are many asthma treatments available to relieve your symptoms. And be sure your doctor has given you an asthma action plan. This plan should outline your treatment and medications to be used.