Asthma

Asthma Summary
Asthma is a condition in which hyperreactive airways constrict and result in symptoms like wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. Causes of asthma include genetics, environmental factors, personal history of allergies, and other factors. Asthma is diagnosed by a physician based on a patient's family history and results from lung function tests and other exams. Inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) and long-acting bronchodilators (LABAs) are used in the treatment of asthma. Generally, the prognosis for a patient with asthma is good. Exposure to allergens found on farms may protect against asthma symptoms.
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Asthma facts

  • Asthma is a chronic inflammation of the bronchial tubes (airways) that causes swelling and narrowing (constriction) of the airways. The bronchial narrowing is usually either totally or at least partially reversible with treatments.
  • Asthma is now the most common chronic illness in children, affecting one in every 15.
  • Asthma involves only the bronchial tubes and usually does not affect the air sacs or the lung tissue. The narrowing that occurs in asthma is caused by three major factors: inflammation, bronchospasm, and hyperreactivity.
  • Allergy can play a role in some, but not all, asthma patients.
  • Many factors can precipitate asthma attacks and they are classified as either allergens or irritants.
  • Symptoms of asthma include shortness of breath, wheezing, cough, and chest tightness.
  • Asthma is usually diagnosed based on the presence of wheezing and confirmed with breathing tests.
  • Chest X-rays are usually normal in asthma patients.
  • Avoiding precipitating factors is important in the management of asthma.
  • Medications can be used to reverse or prevent bronchospasm in patients with asthma.

Asthma statistics, myths, and realities

What do each of these individuals have in common: First, an 18-year-old suddenly develops wheezing and shortness of breath when visiting his grandmother, who happens to have a cat. Second, a 30-year-old woman has colds that "always go into her chest," causing coughing and difficulty breathing. Lastly, a 60-year-old man develops shortness of breath with only slight exertion even though he has never smoked. The answer is that they all have asthma. These are some of the many faces of asthma.

We now know that anyone who is exposed to the "proper" conditions can develop the cardinal symptoms of asthma (cough, wheeze, and shortness of breath). Most researchers believe that the different patterns of asthma are all related to one condition. But some researchers feel that separate forms of lung conditions exist.

There is currently no cure for asthma, and no single exact cause has been identified. Therefore, understanding the changes that occur in asthma, how it makes you feel, and how it can behave over time is essential. This knowledge can empower people with asthma to take an active role in their own health.

Before we present the typical symptoms of asthma, we should dispel some common myths about this condition. This is best achieved by conducting a short true or false quiz.

  1. T or F - Asthma is "all in the mind."
  2. T or F - You will "grow out of it."
  3. T or F - Asthma can be cured, so it is not serious and nobody dies from it.
  4. T or F - You are likely to develop asthma if someone in your family has it.
  5. T or F - You can "catch" asthma from someone else who has it.
  6. T or F - Moving to a different location, such as the desert, can cure asthma.
  7. T or F - People with asthma should not exercise.
  8. T or F - Asthma is best controlled when one has an asthma management plan designed by your doctor. This should include the medications used for quick relief as well as maintenance therapy.
  9. T or F - Medications used to treat asthma are habit forming.
  10. T or F - Someone with asthma can provoke episodes anytime they want in order to get attention.

Here are the answers:

  1. F - Asthma is not a psychological condition. However, emotional triggers can cause flare-ups.
  2. F - You cannot outgrow asthma. In 30% to 70% of children with asthma, the condition may become inactive in the teenage years. The symptoms, however, may reoccur anytime in adulthood.
  3. F - There is no cure for asthma, but the disease can be controlled in most patients with good medical care. The condition should be taken seriously, since uncontrolled asthma may result in emergency hospitalization and possible death.
  4. T - You have a higher chance of developing asthma if one or both parents have it.
  5. F - A new environment may temporarily improve asthma symptoms, but it will not cure asthma. After a few years in the new location, many people become sensitized to the new environment and the asthma symptoms return with the same or even greater intensity than before.
  6. F - Swimming is an optimal exercise for those with asthma. On the other hand, exercising in dry, cold air may be a trigger for asthma in some people.
  7. F - Asthma is best controlled by having an asthma management plan designed by your doctor that includes the medications used for quick relief and those used as controllers.
  8. F - Asthma medications are not addictive.
  9. F - Asthma attacks cannot be faked. In rare cases, there is a psychological condition known by a variety of names (factious asthma, spastic dysphonia, globus hystericus) where emotional issues may cause symptoms that mimic the symptoms of asthma.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/6/2013

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