Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the lungs. It makes breathing difficult and brings on attacks of coughing, wheezing, tightness in the chest and shortness of breath. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 25 million Americans suffer from asthma. It’s the most common chronic condition among American children. About one in every 10 children has asthma.
To understand asthma, you need to understand a little about what happens when you breathe. Normally, with every breath you take, air goes through your nose and down into your throat, eventually making it to your lungs. There are lots of small air passages in your lungs that help deliver oxygen from the air into your bloodstream. Asthma symptoms occur when the lining of these air passages swell and the muscles around them tighten. Mucus then fills the airways, further reducing the amount of air that can pass through. These conditions then bring on an asthma “attack” — the coughing and tightness typical of asthma.
Asthma is sometimes referred to as bronchial asthma since it affects the bronchi in the lungs. A distinction is made between childhood asthma and adult-onset asthma, when symptoms don’t appear until at least age 20. Other types of asthma are described below.
Allergic Asthma (Extrinsic Asthma)
Allergic asthma is triggered by allergens like:
- pet dander
- food preservatives
Allergic asthma is more likely to be seasonal because it often goes hand-in-hand with season allergies.
Non-Allergic Asthma (Intrinsic Asthma)
Irritants in the air not related to allergies trigger this type of asthma. This includes:
- burning wood and cigarette smoke
- air pollution
- air fresheners
- household cleaning products
Cough-Variant Asthma (CVA)
Cough-variant asthma doesn’t have classic asthma symptoms of wheezing and shortness of breath. CVA is characterized by a persistent, dry cough. Cough-variant asthma can lead to full-blown asthma that includes the other more common symptoms.
Exercise-Induced Asthma (EIA)
Exercise-induced asthma affects people during or after physical activity. EIA can occur in people who are not sensitive to other asthma triggers such as dust, pollen, and pet dander.
This type of asthma is characterized by asthma symptoms that worsen at night. Triggers such as heartburn, pet dander, and dust mites can cause bring on symptoms while sleeping.
Occupational asthma is a type of asthma induced by triggers in the workplace. These include:
- animal proteins
- rubber latex
These irritants can exist in a wide range of industries including farming, textiles, woodworking, and many manufacturing companies.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for asthma. On the other hand, there are many effective treatments that can control asthma symptoms. Lifestyle changes and medications can provide the help that an asthma sufferer needs to live a healthy, symptom-free life. The key is to become educated. The more you know about your type of asthma, what triggers your symptoms, and what works for you, the better your quality of life will be.
Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Published on Oct 01, 2014
Medically reviewed on Oct 01, 2014 by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, MBA