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What Do You Want to Know About Asthma?


Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the lungs. It makes breathing difficult and brings on attacks of:

  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • tightness in the chest
  • shortness of breath

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 25 million Americans have asthma. It’s the most common chronic condition among American children. About 1 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 in your chest that is typical of asthma.

Types of asthma

Asthma is sometimes referred to as bronchial asthma since it affects the bronchi in the lungs. Childhood asthma and adult-onset asthma are different. In adult-onset asthma, symptoms don’t appear until at least age 20. Other types of asthma are described below.

Allergic asthma (extrinsic asthma)

Allergens trigger this type of asthma. These might include:

  • pet dander
  • food
  • mold
  • pollen
  • dust

Allergic asthma is more likely to be seasonal because it often goes hand-in-hand with seasonal allergies.

Nonallergic asthma (intrinsic asthma)

Irritants in the air not related to allergies trigger this type of asthma. Irritants might include:

  • burning wood and cigarette smoke
  • cold air
  • air pollution
  • viral illnesses
  • air fresheners
  • household cleaning products
  • perfumes

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 flares that include the other more common symptoms.

Exercise-induced asthma (EIA)

Exercise-induced asthma affects people usually within a few minutes of starting exercise and up to 10–15 minutes after physical activity. As many as 90 percent of people with asthma also have EIA, but not everyone with EIA will have other types of asthma.

Nocturnal asthma

Asthma symptoms worsen at night in this type of asthma. Triggers that are thought to bring on symptoms at night include:

  • heartburn
  • pet dander
  • dust mites
  • the body’s natural sleep cycle

Occupational asthma

Occupational asthma is a type of asthma induced by triggers in the workplace. These include:

  • dust
  • dyes
  • gases
  • fumes
  • industrial chemicals
  • animal proteins
  • rubber latex

These irritants can exist in a wide range of industries, including:

  • farming
  • textiles
  • woodworking
  • manufacturing

Long-term outlook

Unfortunately, there is no cure for asthma. There are many effective treatments that can decrease asthma symptoms. Lifestyle changes and medications can also improve your quality of life. The key is to become educated. The more you know, the better your lung function will be and the better you will feel. Talk with doctor about:

  • your type of asthma
  • what triggers your symptoms
  • what daily treatments are best for you
  • your treatment plan for an asthma attack

Content licensed from:

Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Medically reviewed on: Nov 02, 2016: Judith Marcin, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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