What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung disease marked by acute flare-ups of inflammation and swelling of the airways in the lungs. Asthma is one of the most common childhood diseases, but it also affects adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 17 million adults and 7 million children are living with asthma in the United States.

Asthma affects the bronchioles, small hollow passageways in the lungs, and the alveoli, which are attached to the bronchioles. The alveoli are tiny sac-like structures where oxygen is absorbed into the bloodstream.

During an asthma attack, the bronchioles and alveoli overreact to certain triggers and become inflamed, irritated, and swollen. This hinders the flow of air into the lungs and causes wheezing, chest tightness, difficulty breathing, and coughing. The surrounding muscles react by tightening, further blocking airflow. Mucus production increases, exacerbating breathing troubles.

Minor shortness of breath can be treated at home by following your treatment plan or at a doctor’s office. If you have trouble breathing, with or without chest tightness or wheezing, after taking your medications according to your treatment plan, contact your health professional. More severe asthma attacks can quickly progress from minor shortness of breath to a life-threatening situation.

Get immediate help (call 911) for symptoms such as sweating and severe difficulty breathing, which may be combined with pale or blue lips, fast heart rate, and anxiety.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of asthma?

Symptoms of asthma include shortness of breath, cough, chest tightness, and wheezing. Wheezing is a "whistling" noise that occurs while breathing. It can be heard through a stethoscope or, in certain cases, by the naked ear. Early signs of an asthma flare-up can be subtle and include restlessness, anxiety, and wheezing that cannot be heard by the naked ear. It may also be difficult to hear wheezing in extreme asthma flare-ups because the airways have become so narrow that there is not enough air moving through them to create a sound. Physicians are particularly concerned when patients are... Read more about asthmasymptoms

CAUSES

What causes asthma?

The exact cause of asthma is not known, but it likely involves a combination of genetic and environmental factors. When asthma is associated with allergies, the disease is referred to as allergic asthma or allergy-induced asthma. Asthma caused by breathing irritating or toxic chemicals encountered on the job is called occupational asthma. Exercise-induced asthma is caused by rigorous physical activity.... Read more about asthmacauses

TREATMENTS

How is asthma treated?

Although there is no cure for asthma, you can control it with regular medical care and by consistently following your treatment plan. Asthma treatment plans use a multifaceted approach and are individualized to the type and severity of your asthma.... Read more about asthmatreatments

Medical Reviewer: McDonough, Brian, MD Last Annual Review Date: Dec 3, 2010 Copyright: © 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

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