Asthma is a chronic (long-term), inflammatory condition affecting the airways. The causes of asthma may be environmental, genetic, or both.
There are many risk factors that may increase the chances of having asthma, some of which can be controlled but others cannot. In childhood, males are more likely to have asthma than females but this trend reverses in adulthood. Allergic hypersensitivity (atopy) and sleep apnea often coexist with asthma. Obesity, cigarette smoking, pregnancy, and environmental factors such as pollution, cold air, or high humidity may also be risk factors for asthma.
Common symptoms of asthma include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. Symptoms often come and go and there can be different triggers for acute (sudden, severe) attacks in different people. When there is a trigger (typically allergens such as pet dander, dust mites, mold etc.), inflammation of the airways occurs. The muscles in that area tighten up making a smaller opening for air to pass through. This tightening causes breathing difficulties and common symptoms. Many people with asthma also have a personal or family history of allergies, hay fever, or eczema. There is no diagnostic test for asthma, but through examining symptoms, risk factors, and response to appropriate therapies, one may be diagnosed with the condition.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for asthma at this time. However, there are management options that can limit or improve the response to the symptoms including medications and life style changes. Most people with asthma lead normal lives. If you or your child has asthma, talk to your doctor to discuss the most current treatment options.