What is Asthma

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Asthma Definition

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the lining of the airways, causing bronchospasm.

The airways become inflamed and swollen and produce extra mucus. Episodes of asthma (called asthma attacks) occur when the airways narrow, making it difficult to breathe.

Inflamed Bronchus in the Lungs

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During an asthma attack, symptoms may range from mild wheezing (whistling or hissing sound as you breathe) to severe obstruction of the airways, potentially causing a life-threatening inability to breathe. Cough-variant asthma manifests as persistent, chronic cough without shortness of breath. Although asthma can be very serious, there are many ways to prevent and control symptoms.

The underlying cause of asthma is two-fold: 1) inflammation in the lining of the lung, and 2) structural changes in the lung due to inflammation and narrowing of air passages. Factors in the environment (both indoors and outdoors), called triggers, can make asthma symptoms worse and cause asthma attacks in people who have asthma.

Known asthma triggers include:

  • Allergens:
    • Pollen
    • Mold
    • Animal dander (fine scales from skin, hair, or feathers)
    • Dust mites
    • Cockroaches
  • Viral infections of the respiratory tract
  • Irritants:
    • Strong odors or sprays
    • Chemicals (including preservatives containing sulfites and dyes which are in many foods)
    • Air pollutants (especially ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide)
    • Changing weather conditions
  • Tobacco smoke or wood smoke
  • Drugs (including aspirin and other over-the-counter painkillers in individuals with a special type of asthma)
  • Exercise (especially when exertion occurs in a cold environment)
  • Emotional stress


Learn what Asthma is
What It Is
Learn the basics of this condition. Find out what you're dealing with.
Asthma Causes
What causes Asthma? Learn what the medical community has uncovered.
Asthma Risk Factors
Risk Factors
Are you at risk of getting Asthma? Inside you'll find known risk factors for the condition.
Asthma Diagnosis
How will your doctor diagnose you with this condition? Learn about the tests, process, and more.
Asthma Symptoms
What are the Asthma symptoms? Are you showing any? Learn more today.
Asthma Complications
Can this condition lead to other health problems? Learn more about the known complications.

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Screening for Asthma
Learn more about the specific tests or exams given by your doctor to screen for Asthma.
Asthma Medications
What medications offer relief or help with this condition? Are there side effects? Risks? Learn more.
Asthma Prevention
How can you prevent Asthma? Read what the medical community suggests for prevention methods.
Asthma Treatment
Can this condition be treated? What Asthma treatment options are available?
Asthma Care
Learn more about the day to day care of this condition. Changes to your activity, diet, exercise, and more.
Asthma Doctors
Find a Doctor
Do you need to contact a doctor about Asthma? Select a location to find a specialist in your area.

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Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Copyright ©2014 EBSCO Publishing All rights reserved. Source: EBSCO