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What is Asthma?

Asthma: What is it?

Asthma causes symptoms such as recurring periods of wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing. The coughing frequently occurs at night or early in the morning.

Asthma can affect people of all ages, but it most frequently begins in childhood. More than 22 million people in The United States alone have been diagnosed with asthma. Nearly 6 million of these people are children.

It’s important to treat asthma symptoms when you first notice them. This will help prevent the symptoms from worsening and causing a severe asthma attack where the airways become obstructed. Severe asthma attacks may require emergency care, and they can cause death.

Asthma is a complex problem caused by many factors that may act individually or in combination with others. Our bodies require oxygen from the air we breathe in order for our cells to carry out all of the vital functions of our body. When we breathe in, oxygen-carrying air enters through the mouth or nose, descends through the windpipe, then to tubes called the bronchi. The bronchi branch out into each lung where oxygen is picked up by passing blood, which then carries the oxygen throughout the body.

During an asthma episode is that the bronchial tubes become narrowed, and even blocked. As a result, oxygen and air can't get in or out of the lungs easily, and the asthmatic person, frequently a child, begins to breathe heavily, wheeze or cough.

There are two reasons the bronchi narrow:...

When the bronchi become irritated and/or infected, an asthma attack may be triggered. The attack may be acute onset and happen suddenly, or develop gradually over several days or hours. The main symptoms that can signal an impending asthma attack are as follows:

  • Wheezing
  • Breathlessness
  • Chest tightness
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty speaking

Wheezing is the most common symptom of an asthma attack. Wheezing is defined as a whistling noise in the chest during breathing when the airways are narrowed or compressed. Not all asthmatics wheeze, and not all people who wheeze are asthmatics.

The characteristics of wheezing include:

  • Hearing a musical, whistling, or hissing sound with breathing
  • Most often heard during inhalation, but they can...

A diagnosis of asthma is based on a physical examination, personal history, and lung function tests. The physical examination looks for common asthma symptoms such as wheezing or coughing, and the personal history provides additional information, including allergies, exposure to second hand smoke, and/or a familial tendency towards asthma.

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