What is Asthma?

Published on June 04, 2021

boy with inhaler

What is Asthma?

Twenty-five million people in the United States, adults and children alike, have asthma. While the exact cause of asthma is unknown, there are several things that can trigger it.

Amra Nasir, medical director with Adventist HealthCare Urgent Care, defines asthma and ways you can limit attacks.

What is asthma?

Dr. Nasir: Asthma is a disease that affects your lungs and causes your airways to narrow and swell. This occurs due to an immune response to something that has entered your lungs which can be triggered by several things. Your environment is one of the most common factors. Mold, allergens and even secondhand smoke can all trigger asthma symptoms. Asthma can also be triggered and developed if you’ve been exposed to something within your occupation. If you’re exposed to dust or chemicals at work over a consistent time period, it is likely you can and will develop asthma. Asthma can also be genetic and if someone in your immediate family has asthma, you are more likely to have it as well.

What are the symptoms of asthma?

Dr. Nasir: Symptoms of asthma, also commonly referred to as an asthma attack, can consist of wheezing, a tight chest, trouble breathing and coughing. An asthma attack occurs due to your lungs shrinking and causing the airway to get tighter and smaller. As this occurs, less air can move through your lungs and the mucus your body produces fills the airway.

If you suffer from asthma, you may notice a pattern with your symptoms. You could experience symptoms that:

  • Occur throughout the day or over time
  • Worsen when you have a cold or flu
  • Trigger from laughing or crying, allergies, exercise or from being in cold air
  • Are worse at night or the morning

Can asthma be treated?

Dr. Nasir: Asthma can be controlled and treated. The best way to control your asthma is by avoiding triggers. This can include pollen, dust mites and mold among others. Follow your doctor’s advice about when to take your medication and how often. Your doctor may recommend two types of mediations, long-term control and quick-relief.

Long-term control helps to keep your asthma under control on a daily basis, but quick-relief is used when you’re experiencing an asthma attack. Some of these medications are given in pill form whereas others are given through an inhaler and you breathe in the medication. Your doctor will prescribe the medication they believe is best for you.

It’s important to remember that even if you don’t have an “attack” you still need to pay attention to how often you are reaching for your quick-relief inhaler and how often you are having symptoms. If you notice that you need your quick-relief inhaler more than twice a week, your asthma may not be under control. Even mild symptoms that occur twice a week can indicate your asthma isn’t under control.

If you have questions about your asthma treatment or believe you may have asthma, talk with your doctor. They will be able to work with you to find the best course of treatment for your symptoms.

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