Asthma

Overview

Asthma is a chronic lung condition that causesepisodes of breathing difficulty, coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Symptoms of asthma vary from person to person, but allergens, exercise, infections, stress, and irritants usually trigger asthma attacks. Asthma can be a minor nuisance, or it can be so severe that it requires emergency care. There is no cure for asthma, but in most casessymptoms can be controlled with medications and the avoidance of triggers.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The primary symptoms of asthma include wheezing, coughing that is often worse in the morning or at night, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Symptoms vary from person to person; some people may have mild symptoms while others experience frequent asthma attacks (symptoms that are worse than usual). Severe asthma attacks are medical emergencies. Symptoms of a serious asthma attack include rapid worsening of shortness of breath, no improvement after using an inhaler, and shortness of breath without exertion. Recurrences of serious asthma attacks can interfere with daily activities and in some cases lead to side effects from long-term use of asthma medications, as well as a permanent narrowing of airways.

Diagnosing asthma includes ruling out other similar conditions such as respiratory infection with a physical exam and lung function teststhat measure how much and how quickly air is breathed out (spirometry) and how hard air is breathed out (peak flow). These tests are done before and after using a bronchodilator (inhaler) to open the airways. Asthma is typically diagnosed when lung function improves after using the bronchodilator.Once a diagnosis of asthma is established, doctors will ask about symptoms to determine the severity of the asthma and plan treatment accordingly.

Causes

Asthma occurs when the walls of the body’s airways become sore and swollen, making them sensitive to different triggers. When the airways are exposed to these triggers, they react by becoming narrower and producing excess mucus, causing the lungs to get less air. Common triggers include exercise, allergens, respiratory infections, stress, and irritants such as chemical fumes, dust, smoke, and gases. Allergens that may induce asthma attacks include pet dander, mold, dust mites, cockroaches, and pollen. Some people are allergic to foods, most commonly shellfish and peanuts.

It is unknown what causes people to develop asthma. However, there are certain risk factors that may increase the likelihood of developing asthma, including smoking, being overweight, exposure to exhaust fumes, pollution, or chemicals, and low birth weight. People who have other allergic conditions or a family history of asthma may also be at a higher risk. Continue reading for Prevention and Treatment Information . . .

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