Asthma

Asthma

Illustration of  the anatomy of the respiratory system, adult
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What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic, inflammatory lung disease involving recurrent breathing problems. The characteristics of asthma are three airway problems:

What are the symptoms of asthma?

Common symptoms of asthma are listed below. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently.

In some cases, the only symptom is a chronic cough, especially at night, or tightness, coughing, noisy breathing, or wheezing. Some people think they have recurrent bronchitis, since respiratory infections usually settle in the chest in a person predisposed to asthma.

Asthma may resemble other respiratory problems such as emphysema, bronchitis, and lower respiratory infections. Many people with asthma do not know they have it. Consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

What causes asthma?

The basic cause of the lung abnormality in asthma is not yet known, although health care professionals have established that it is a special type of inflammation of the airway that leads to the following:

It is important to know that asthma is not caused by emotional factors—as commonly believed years ago. Emotional anxiety and nervous stress can cause fatigue, which may affect the immune system and increase asthma symptoms, or aggravate an attack. However, these reactions are considered to be more of an effect than a cause.

What happens during an asthma attack?

People with asthma have acute episodes when the air passages in their lungs get narrower, and breathing becomes more difficult. These problems are caused by an oversensitivity of the lungs and airways:

What are the risk factors for an asthma attack?

Although anyone may have an asthma attack, it most commonly occurs in:

Other factors include:

How is asthma diagnosed?

To diagnose asthma and distinguish it from other lung disorders, doctors rely on a combination of medical history, physical examination, and laboratory tests, which may include:

What is the treatment for asthma?

Specific treatment for asthma will be determined by your doctor based on:

As of yet, there is no cure for asthma. However, it can often be controlled with prescription medications that may help to prevent or relieve symptoms, and by learning ways to manage episodes.

How is asthma managed?

People with asthma can learn to identify and avoid the things that trigger an episode. They can also educate themselves about medications and other asthma management strategies.

According to the Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma published by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute:

Four components of asthma treatment:

  1. The use of objective measures of lung function—spirometry, peak flow expiratory flow rate—to access the severity of asthma, and to monitor the course of treatment.
  2. The use of medication therapy designed to reverse and prevent the airway inflammation component of asthma, as well as to treat the narrowing airways.
  3. The use of environmental control measures to avoid or eliminate factors that induce or trigger asthma flare-ups, including the consideration of immunotherapy.
  4. Patient education that includes a partnership among the patient, family members, and the doctor.

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