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Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease involving the breathing passages (bronchi) of the lungs. These airways normally may narrow as a protective response to keep unwanted material from entering the lungs. With asthma, this narrowing process is exaggerated and happens too rapidly, frequently, or severely. Substances that do not usually affect other people's lungs to the same degree may trigger an asthmatic "attack". Typical "triggers" include dust, pollen, animal dander, cold or humid air, upper respiratory infections, or stress. Avoidance of asthmatic triggers is very important in asthma management.

Asthmatic symptoms are caused by an inflammation of the bronchial walls, tightening of smooth muscle fibers surrounding the bronchial tubes, and excessive production of mucus. As the airways of lungs narrow, the chest tightens, wheezing begins, and breathing may become difficult. Cough is a common complaint in asthmatics. Asthma frequently develops in childhood, and is the most common cause of chronic illness in children. It is estimated that over four million children and 10 million adults are affected by asthma. Asthma causes 470,000 hospital visits annually, predominately for children and young adults.

Effective medications are available to control the underlying inflammation in the bronchi as well as to treat acute asthma attacks. Most patients with asthma, working closely with their physicians, are able to manage the disease effectively so that they can achieve a relatively healthy and active lifestyle.

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