What is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic disease of the airways that makes breathing difficult. With asthma, there is inflammation of the air passages that results in a temporary narrowing of the airways that carry oxygen to the lungs. This results in asthma symptoms, including coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. If it is severe, asthma can result in decreased activity and inability to talk.
In the United States, asthma affects an estimated 26 million people — many of whom may not be aware that they have it, especially if their symptoms aren’t severe.
The most common signs of asthma are:
- Coughing, especially at night, during exercise or when laughing
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
- Wheezing (a whistling or squeaky sound in your chest when breathing, especially when exhaling)
Any asthma symptom is serious and can become deadly if left untreated.
Asthma symptoms may be triggered by exposure to an allergen (such as ragweed, pollen, animal dander, or dust mites), irritants in the air (such as smoke, chemical fumes or strong odors), or extreme weather conditions. Exercise or an illness, particularly a respiratory illness or the flu, can also make you more susceptible.
Asthma medicines come in two types—quick-relief and long-term control. Quick-relief medicines control the symptoms of an asthma attack. If you need to use your quick-relief medicines more and more, visit your doctor to see if you need a different medicine. Long-term control medicines help you have fewer and milder attacks, but they don’t help you while you are having an asthma attack.