Asthma 101

Do you or someone you know have asthma? You aren’t alone. In fact, asthma affects over 25 million people in the United States. While it’s a long-term disease with no cure, it can be managed and controlled. Here are a few things you should know.

What Is Asthma?

Asthma is a condition where a person’s airways become inflamed, narrow, swell, and produce extra mucus, making breathing difficult when exposed to specific triggers.

What Are the Symptoms of Asthma?

Symptoms vary in asthmatics, but typically they include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • Chest pain
  • Wheezing when exhaling (most common in children)
  • Trouble sleeping caused by shortness of breath, coughing, or wheezing
  • Coughing or wheezing attacks

What Causes Asthma?

Asthma has a number of causes, though symptoms may worsen during exercise, when a person is sick or stressed, or when they are exposed to cold, dry air, irritants such as fumes or dust, or allergens such as pollen, mold, pet dander, etc.

Asthma can also be adult-onset, meaning it starts after age 18, or pediatric, where signs begin before age 5. Children can also outgrow asthma.

Are There Different Types of Asthma?

Asthma is divided into different types, based on the cause and severity of symptoms:

  • Intermittent: This type comes and goes. People often feel “normal” between flare-ups.
  • Persistent: When people experience mild, moderate, or severe symptoms most of the time.

Additionally, there are these types of asthma:

  • Exercise-induced: Caused by exercise.
  • Occupational: Occurs primarily to those who work around irritating substances.
  • Asthma-COPD: Occurs when you have both asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

How Is Asthma Diagnosed?

There are a few ways your doctor may diagnose asthma, including:

  • A physical exam
  • A lung function test
  • A chest and/or sinus X-ray
  • An allergy test
  • Bloodwork to look for certain markers
  • Reviewing your medical history

From here, they will determine what kind of asthma you have and the best treatment plan based on the severity of your symptoms. Your doctor may also recommend you see an allergist or a pulmonologist.

How Is Asthma Treated?

Asthma is most commonly treated with medication, inhalers, and avoiding triggers. Preventive medications reduce swelling in the airways. Quick-relief inhalers open swollen airways that hinder breathing. In some cases, allergy medications can treat symptoms.

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