Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways to the lungs. It makes breathing difficult and can make some physical activities difficult or even impossible.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 27 million Americans have asthma. It’s the most common chronic condition among American children: 1 child out of every 12 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, into your airways, 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 your airways 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.
Symptoms of asthma include:
coughing, especially at night, when laughing, or during exercise
wheezing, a squealing or whistling sound made when breathing
tightness in the chest
shortness of breath
The type of asthma that you have can determine which symptoms you experience.
Not everyone with asthma will experience these particular symptoms. If you think the symptoms you’re experiencing could be a sign of a condition such as asthma, make an appointment to see your doctor.
The first indication that you have asthma may not be an actual asthma attack. Discover some early symptoms of asthma you may experience instead.
No single cause has been identified for asthma. Instead, researchers believe that the breathing condition is caused by a variety of factors. These factors include:
Genetics. If a parent has asthma, you’re more likely to develop it.
History of viral infections. People with a history of viral infections during childhood are more likely to develop the condition.
Hygiene hypothesis. This hypothesis proposes that babies aren’t exposed to enough bacteria in their early months and years. Therefore, their immune systems don’t become strong enough to fight off asthma and other conditions.
Early allergen exposure. Frequent contact with possible allergens and irritants may increase your risk for developing asthma.