Health Information
Asthma Overview

Definition
Asthma is a very common disease, about 15 million people suffer from asthma at some point in their lives. Asthma often starts in childhood, but can also start in adulthood. The word “asthma” is derived from a Greek word meaning “to pant”. It is a chronic obstructive lung disease in which the muscles lining the bronchial tubes contract in response to inhaled irritants. When these muscles contract, the bronchial tubes become too narrow and are more easily irritated. Fortunately, the muscle contractions are temporary and improve with avoidance of irritants or with treatment.

Triggers
Many irritants can trigger or worsen asthma. Some patients with asthma are allergic to various dusts, pollens, and other environmental irritants. Chest infections, cigarette smoke, cold air, anxiety, or exercise can also cause an asthma episode. Patient may have more episodes during the spring and fall months. Asthma may be inherited; however, it also occurs later in life without any definite allergy or family history of it.

Symptoms
The most common symptom of asthma is wheezing. This is musical, high-pitched sound caused by air passing through the narrowed bronchial tubes. During an asthma episode, patients usually become short of breath and wheeze. However, some patients’ only symptoms of asthma may be an intermittent dry, hacking cough. Patients with asthma may bring up yellow phlegm. This does not always mean there is a lung infection; often the asthma alone will cause this problem, but it is important to treat a lung infection promptly if one is present.

Treatment
Of all the chronic lung diseases, asthma responds the best to certain medications called bronchodilators. These medications cause the muscles lining the bronchial tubes to relax and lesson muscle spasm. The following medications may be indicated to treat asthma:

Like the other chronic lung diseases, there is more treatment than just using medications. Stopping smoking and avoiding known irritants are important.  In some allergic patients, desensitization (allergy shots) may help. It is important to get flu vaccine each year.

Return to Asthma