What Is Asthma – A Definition
What is asthma is a common question among newly diagnosed asthma patients. Asthma is a chronic lung disease that causes episodes of difficult breathing. Asthma symptoms are caused primarily due to constriction, tightening of the muscles surrounding the airways, and inflammation, soreness, swelling and irritation of the airways in the lungs.
What Is Asthma – Important Statistics
More than 22 million people – and some 6 million children – have asthma. Everyday in the United States:
40,000 people will miss school or work because of asthma
30,000 people will have an asthma attack
5,000 people will visit the emergency room because of their asthma
1,000 people will be admitted to the hospital because of asthma
11 people will die due to asthma
What Is Asthma – Different Types of Asthma
There are actually several different types of asthma. Understanding the specific type
of asthma you have can help you get the most effective treatment. Some the types of are:
– Allergic asthma
– Exercise induced asthma
– Occupational asthma
– Cough variant asthma
– Nocturnal (nighttime) asthma.
What Is Asthma – Causes of Asthma
Asthma has increased dramatically over the last several decades. While the exact cause of asthma is unknown, many think the following factors act together to cause asthma or are risk factors for asthma:
– Atopy, or an inherited tendency to develop allergy
– Family history of asthma
– Contracting certain respiratory infections in early childhood
– Exposure to some airborne allergens and viral infections during early childhood as the immune system develops.
– Other allergens like animal dander
– Allergic rhinitis
– Exposure to cigarette smoke
– Airway hyperreactivity (an exaggerated airway responsiveness to various stimuli)
Normal vs. Asthmatic Breathing
When a person without asthma breathes in, the air:
Enters through the nose or mouth.
Goes down the trachea, or windpipe.
Enters the bronchioles, or airways of the lung.
Blood is oxygenated at the alveoli.
Goes back out again.
However, for asthmatics, this process is different and more difficult. In asthma patients, the airways are very sensitive and may react to a number of different triggers, such as smoke, pollens and infections, leading to constriction and inflammation of the airways. Constriction and inflammation cause airflow obstruction, making it difficult to breathe.
Asthma symptoms will wax and wane over time with treatment focused on both the prevention and control of symptoms and the reduction of inflammation.
The constriction and inflammation may cause patients to experience some or all of the following symptoms:
– Chest tightness
– Shortness of breath
– Chronic cough
Everyone’s asthma is different. You may experience other symptoms and symptoms will vary in intensity. For more information about signs and symptoms of asthma, visit About. com’s Symptom Checker, an interactive tool to help you learn more about signs and symptoms of asthma and other diseases.
In general diagnosing asthma requires 2 specific criteria:
1. Presence of symptoms compatible with asthma.
2. Objective measurement of decreased airflow in your lungs using a specific measurement like peak expiratory flow.
Your health care provider will generally take a detailed history from you and perform a physical exam.