What is Asthma?


Most people know at least one person who is living with asthma. A common chronic condition, meaning it lasts a long time and/or is recurrent, this disease affects more than 22 million Americans and an estimated 300 million people (holy cow!) throughout the world. But just what is asthma, and why do so many people have it?

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a disease that affects the airways that bring the air you breathe to and from your lungs. When someone is an asthmatic, the inner walls of their airways are swollen and inflamed, which makes them very sensitive to irritation and allergic reactions.

When an asthmatic’s airways become inflamed, the passageway through which the air travels becomes more and more narrow. This decreases the amount of air that can pass in and out of the lungs, which results in asthma’s notorious breathing problems: coughing, wheezing and chest tightness. When this inflammation becomes severe, the asthmatic is having an asthma attack.

What Happens During an Asthma Attack?

Asthma attacks, varying in severity, can come on without notice. Since they can be fatal if action is not taken, it’s important to know what is happening during an episode:

  • Less air is passing through their airway. It has become narrow as a result of the muscles tightening and inflammation of the inner airway walls.
  • Mucus production is kicked into high gear which further blocks the airway.
  • Oxygen cannot enter the bloodstream through the lungs, which deprives it from your body’s vital organs.
  • Similarly, carbons dioxide cannot exit the body. Did you know carbon dioxide is poisonous to humans if it stays in the body? That is why we breathe it out! When the airways are blocked, this carbon dioxide can build up in the lungs and further prevent oxygen from getting into the bloodstream.

The best way to avoid asthma attacks is to determine what causes your episodes. Speaking with your doctor is always step one! He or she will help you in determining what triggers your asthmatic reactions and suggest ways to avoid these stimuli. A prescription for medications will also come your way, which will assist you in controlling your symptoms.

While asthma is an incurable condition, it is perfectly possible to live a normal lifestyle with it. The first step is taking control and managing the disease!

What Are The Causes of Asthma?

People of all ages are afflicted with this disorder. Most asthmatics were diagnosed as children, and there are approximately 6 million children in the United States currently living with the condition.

Most children who are diagnosed begin showing symptoms at around 5-years-old. Parents will notice frequent respiratory infections, allergies and episodes of wheezing and coughing. Since asthma is also a genetic disease, children with asthmatic parents are more likely to develop it.

Asthma is a heavily studied and researched condition. The causes of asthma vary, though the most common cases are from:

  • Allergies (respiratory, skin, etc.)
  • Genes
  • Obesity
  • Environmental Factors (i.e. pollution, tobacco smoke)
  • Airway Hyperactivity
  • Stress
  • Allergic Hypersensitivity (called Atopy)
  • Pregnancy

How is Asthma Treated?

Since there is no cure for asthma, it is not treated, but rather controlled. Upon speaking to your doctor, you will be prescribed medication to help you successfully manage the condition. This may be in the forms of pills or inhalers.

Additionally, research points to vitamin D being a great help when trying to reduce asthma symptoms. While it in no way should act as a replacement for your medication, it’s always nice to have the house stocked with helpful vitamins and minerals!

Check out other great Ask Dr. Smarty questions here!

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