Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the lining of the airways. In some cases, it is also a chronic allergic condition.
The airways become swollen from inflammation and narrowed from muscle contractions. They also produce extra mucus. Episodes of worsening asthma called asthma attacks occur when the narrowing worsens.
Inflamed Bronchus in the Lungs
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During an asthma attack, symptoms may range from a mild whistling or hissing sound as you breathe to severe obstruction of the airways, potentially causing a life-threatening inability to breathe. Cough-variant asthma begins as persistent, chronic cough without shortness of breath. Although asthma can be serious, there are many ways to prevent and control symptoms.
The underlying cause of asthma is two part: 1) inflammation in the lining of the lung, and 2) structural changes in the lung due to inflammation and narrowing of air passages. Factors in indoor and outdoor environments, called triggers, can make asthma symptoms worse and cause asthma attacks in people who have asthma.
Known asthma triggers include:
PollenMoldAnimal dander—fine scales from skin, hair, or feathersDust mitesCockroachesViral infections of the respiratory tract
Strong odors or spraysChemicals, including preservatives containing sulfites and dyes which are in many foodsAir pollutants, especially ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxideChanging weather conditions, especially cold air and dry airTobacco smoke or wood smokeDrugs, including aspirin and other over-the-counter painkillers in individuals with a special type of asthmaExercise, especially when exertion occurs in a cold environmentEmotional stress
Asthma. American Lung Association website. Available at:
http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/asthma. Accessed August 14, 2015.
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology
website. Available at:
http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/asthma.aspx. Accessed August 14, 2015.
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America website. Available at:
http://www.aafa.org/display.cfm?id=8&sub=14. Accessed August 14, 2015.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases website. Available at:
http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/asthma/understanding/Pages/default.aspx. Accessed August 14, 2015.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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