What is asthma?
Asthma is a long-term (chronic) lung disease where the airways react to triggers such as allergens and irritants.
With exposure to triggers, these changes occur:
- The airways become swollen and inflamed.
- The muscles around the airways tighten.
- More mucus is made. This leads to mucus plugs.
Who is at risk for asthma?
It is most common in children/teens ages 5 to 17 and people living in cities.
Other factors include:
- Personal or family history of asthma or allergies
- Exposure to secondhand and tobacco smoke
- Having allergies or eczema
What are the symptoms of asthma?
- Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
- Wheezing or a whistling sound when breathing
- Breathing becomes harder and may hurt
- Talking and sleeping may be harder with severe symptoms. These changes make the airways narrow, making it hard for a person to breathe in and out.
What causes asthma?
While experts do not know the exact cause of asthma, they believe it is partly inherited. The environment, infections, and chemicals released by the body also play a role. Staying away from triggers is key in managing asthma. Triggers may be allergens, irritants, other health problems, exercise, medicines, and strong emotions.
Triggers and how to avoid them:
- Dust is the most common year-round allergen and is caused by tiny dust mites. Dust mites are found in mattresses, carpets, and fabric-covered (upholstered) furniture such as sofas and chairs. They live best in warm, humid conditions. Put dust mite covers on your mattress, box spring, and pillows.
- Pollens: You may be allergic to pollen. If so, during pollen season keep all car and house windows closed and use air conditioning instead. If you are outside, shower, wash your hair, and change clothes when you go inside.
- Pets that have fur or feathers often cause allergies. If you have pets, try not to touch them. If you do pet or handle them, wash your hands afterward. Keep pets off your bed and out of your bedroom. Have someone brush and bathe your pet often.
- Mold and mildew: When outside, stay away from damp, shady areas. Use exhaust fans when cooking or bathing. Keep indoor humidity below 45%. Drain and clean your dehumidifier often.
Exercise is a common asthma trigger. But you don't need to limit sports or exercise unless a healthcare provider advises it. Swimming, golf, and karate are good choices if you have asthma. Always warm up before exercise and cool down after. Ask your provider about using your quick-relief medicine before starting exercise.
- If you smoke, quit and stay away from smoke
- Don’t use wood stoves or kerosene heaters
- Avoid strong perfumes, cleaning products, fresh paint, and other strong odors
- Some medicines can make asthma symptoms worse, such as aspirin, NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), and beta-blockers. Talk with your provider about your asthma history and medicine use
Other health problems
If you have any of the following, please work with your provider to treat these conditions simultaneously to improve your asthma control:
- Respiratory infections, such as colds and the flu
- GERD (gastroesophageal reflux) and heartburn
- Excess weight gain
- Sleep apnea