Asthma is a chronic disease in which inflammation of the airways causes air flow into and out of the lungs to be restricted. The muscles of the bronchial tree tighten and the lining of the air passages swells, reducing airflow.
Inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes causes extra mucus to be produced, further blocking the airways. Air can get in but there is a problem getting the air out. Constriction of the airways is usually reversible with treatment.
Asthma can occur as an allergic reaction to an allergen or other substance, or as a part of a complex disease cycle which may include reactions to stress or exercise.
The narrowing of the airways cause the symptoms of Asthma:
- chest tightness
- shortness of breath
The cause of Asthma is unknown.
Asthma "attacks" can last a few minutes to several hours. Some attacks can be fatal. Approximately 5,000 people per year die from Asthma.
You are at a higher risk of developing Asthma if you:
- Have family members with asthma
- Have allergies
- Are overweight
- Are exposed to Asthma triggers
Asthma triggers can be dust mites, cockroaches, animal dander, mold, grass, weeds, tree pollen, etc.
Other triggers include tobacco and other smoke, viral infections, foods, exercise, cold air, emotional stress, medications, strong odors, high humidity and changes in temperature.
Asthma is diagnosed by:
- Physical exam
- History of Asthma symptoms
- Spirometry Testing
Breathing measurement tests called Peak Expiratory Flow or Spirometry are important in the diagnosis of Asthma.
There are four levels of asthma severity:
Mild intermittent Mild persistent Moderate persistent Severe persistent
These levels are determined by the number of times per day and night that you have Asthma symptoms.
Asthma treatment consists of:
Removal of your Asthma triggers
Controller medications, taken daily to control or prevent symptoms.
Rescue medications, taken as needed when symptoms occur.
Allergy medications, taken as needed to control allergy symptoms.
Do you want to find out if your Asthma is in optimal control?
In the past 4 weeks:
- How often have you had coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing or chest tightness?
- How often have you used your rescue inhaler or nebulizer (albuterol)?
- How often have you been awakened at night by asthma symptoms?
- Have you been to the Emergency Department because of your asthma?
- Has your asthma kept you from getting as much done as usual at school, work or home?
Please discuss your answers to these questions with your doctor.