All About Asthma

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

  • obstruction
  • inflammation
  • hyper-responsiveness

What are the symptoms of asthma?
Asthma may resemble other respiratory problems such as emphysema, bronchitis, and lower respiratory infections. It is under-diagnosed -- many people with the disease do not know they have it. Sometimes the only symptom is a chronic cough, especially at night, or coughing or wheezing that occurs only with exercise. Some people think they have recurrent bronchitis, since respiratory infections usually settle in the chest in a person predisposed to asthma.

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

  • contraction of airway muscles
  • mucus production
  • swelling in the airways

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 are the risk factors for an asthma attack?
Although anyone may have an asthma attack, it most commonly occurs in:
  • children, by the age of 5
  • adults in their 30s
  • adults older than 65
  • people living in urban communities

Other factors include:

  • family history of asthma
  • personal medical history of allergies

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.

  • Lungs and airways overreact to certain triggers and become inflamed and clogged.
  • Breathing becomes harder and may hurt.
  • There may be coughing.
  • There may be a wheezing or whistling sound, which are typical of asthma. Wheezing occurs because:


What is a risk factor?

A risk factor is anything that may increase a person’s chance of developing a disease. It may be an activity, diet, family history, or many other things.

Different diseases have different risk factors. Although these factors can increase a person’s risk, they do not necessarily cause the disease. For example, some people with one or more risk factors never develop cancer, while others develop cancer and have no known risk factors.

Knowing your risk factors to any disease can help to guide you into the appropriate actions, including changing behaviors and being clinically monitored for the disease.


  • muscles that surround the airways tighten, the inner lining of the airways swells and pushes inward.
  • membranes that line the airways secrete extra mucus.
  • the mucus can form plugs that further block the air passages.
  • the rush of air through the narrowed airways produces the wheezing sounds.

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

  • spirometry (using an instrument that measure the air taken into and out of the lungs)
  • peak flow monitoring (another measure of lung function)
  • chest x-rays
  • blood tests
  • allergy tests



Triggers For Asthma Attacks

Management of Asthma