What is asthma?
Asthma causes swelling and inflammation in the airways that lead to your lungs. When asthma flares up, the airways tighten and become narrower. This keeps the air from passing through easily and makes it hard for you to breathe. These flare-ups are also called asthma attacks or exacerbations (say "ig-zas-er-BAY-shuns").
Asthma affects people in different ways. Some people have asthma attacks only during allergy season, or when they breathe in cold air, or when they exercise. Others have many bad attacks that send them to the doctor often.
Even if you have few asthma attacks, you still need to treat your asthma. The swelling and inflammation in your airways can lead to permanent changes in your airways and harm your lungs.
Many people with asthma live active, full lives. Even though asthma is a lifelong disease, treatment can control it and keep you healthy.
What causes asthma?
- Asthma runs in families.
- Asthma is much more common in people who have allergies, though not everyone with allergies gets asthma. And not everyone with asthma has allergies.
- Pollution may cause asthma or make it worse.
What are the symptoms?
- Wheeze, making a loud or soft whistling noise when you breathe in and out.
- Cough a lot.
- Feel tightness in your chest.
- Feel short of breath.
- Have trouble sleeping because of coughing or having a hard time breathing.
- Quickly get tired during exercise.
Your symptoms may be worse at night.
Severe asthma attacks can be life-threatening and need emergency treatment.
How is asthma diagnosed?
- Peak expiratory flow (PEF).
- An exercise or inhalation challenge.
- A chest X-ray, to see if another disease is causing your symptoms.
- Allergy tests, if your doctor thinks your symptoms may be caused by allergies.
You will need routine checkups with your doctor to keep track of your asthma and decide on treatment.
How is it treated?
There are two parts to treating asthma, which are outlined in your asthma action plan. The goals are to:
- Control asthma over the long term.
- Treat asthma attacks when they occur.
If you need to use the quick-relief inhaler more often than usual, talk to your doctor. This may be a sign that your asthma is not controlled and can cause problems.
Asthma attacks can be life-threatening, but you may be able to prevent them if you follow a plan. Your doctor can teach you the skills you need to use your asthma action plan.
How can you prevent asthma attacks?
You can prevent some asthma attacks by avoiding those things that cause them. These are called triggers. A trigger can be:
- Irritants in the air, such as cigarette smoke or other kinds of air pollution. Don't smoke, and try to avoid being around others when they smoke.
- Things you are allergic to, such as pet dander, dust mites, cockroaches, or pollen.
- Other things like dry, cold air; an infection; or some medicines, such as aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Try not to exercise outside when it is cold and dry.
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