Asthma is a chronic condition in which the airways that carry air to the lungs are inflamed and narrowed.
Inflamed airways are very sensitive, and they tend to react to things in the environment called triggers, such as inhaled substances. When the airways react, they swell and narrow even more, and also produce extra mucus, all of which make it harder for air to flow to the lungs.
When the airways react to asthma triggers, people can experience an asthma flare-up or asthma attack. Symptoms of an asthma attack include: coughing, chest tightness, wheezing and trouble breathing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some people have mild asthma symptoms that go away on their own, or only experience asthma symptoms in response to certain activities like exercising. Other people have more serve and frequent symptoms.
What causes asthma?
The underlying cause of asthma is not known, but it's thought to be due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. People with asthma may have genetic risk factors that make them more susceptible to the disease, and certain environmental factors, such as exposure to allergens or certain viral infections in infancy, may increase the risk of developing the disease, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
Symptoms of asthma can be caused by triggers. Common asthma triggers include: tobacco smoke, dust mites, air pollution, pollen, mold, respiratory infections, physical activity, cold air and allergic reactions to some foods
Asthma treatment & medications
There is no cure for asthma. People who experience asthma symptoms should speak with their doctor about how to best treat and manage their condition.
Managing asthma usually involves avoiding asthma triggers, and taking medications to prevent or treat symptoms.
There are two types of medications to treat asthma: long-term medications and quick-relief medications.
Long-term medications are typically taken daily to help prevent asthma symptoms from starting in the first place. A common medication is inhaled corticosteroids, which reduce airway inflammation and make airways less sensitive. Other long-term medications include omalizumab, a shot given one or two times a month to prevent the body from reacting to asthma triggers, and Inhaled long-acting beta2-agonists, which help open airways.
Quick-relief medications provide relief from acute asthma symptoms. A common quick-relief medication is inhaled short-acting beta2-agonists, which help relax muscles around the airways, allowing more air to flow through them. People with asthma should have a quick-relief inhaler with them at all times to case they need it, according to the NHLBI.
Anyone can have asthma, but it most often starts in childhood. Of the 25 million asthma sufferers in the United States, 7 million are children, according to the NHLBI.
Most children with asthma develop it before age five, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI). In children, asthma can appear as wheezing or whistling sound when breathing, coughing, rapid or labored breathing, complaints of chest pain and feeling weak or tired, AAAAI says
In children, asthma is the leading cause of emergency room visits, hospitalizations and missed days of school, according to the Mayo Clinic. A child's asthma symptoms may continue into adulthood, the Mayo Clinic says.