Asthma -- Adult

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the function and lining of the airways or tubes of the lungs. It narrows the airways and makes it difficult to breathe.

  • Causes

    Asthma may be caused by a combination of factors including environment, genetics, and biology.

    Asthma symptoms are caused by an increased sensitivity of the airways to certain triggers. The triggers cause the lining of the airways to swell and produce extra fluid called mucus. At the same time, the muscles around the outside of the airway tighten in response to the irritation. All of these reactions narrow the airways and make it difficult to breathe. This response is often referred to as an asthma attack.

    Possible triggers of an asthma attack in a person with asthma include:

    • Viral illness
    • Exercise
    • Cold weather
    • Sinusitis
    • Gastroesophageal reflux disease
    • Sulfites used in dried fruits and wine

    • Medications, such as
      , and beta-blockers

    • Exposure to irritants or allergens, including:

      • Cigarette smoke
      • Smoke from a wood-burning stove
      • Pet dander
      • Dust
      • Chemicals
      • Mold and mildew
      • Pollen
      • Smog or air pollution
      • Perfumed products

  • Definition

    Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the function and lining of the airways or tubes of the lungs. It narrows the airways and makes it difficult to breathe.

    Inflamed Bronchus in the Lungs
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

    Your doctor may also do some tests to measure lung functions. They may include:

    • Peak flow examination—blowing quickly and forcefully into a special instrument that measures your output of air
    • Pulmonary function tests
      (PFTs)—breathing into a machine that records information about the function of your lungs
    • Reversibility testing—tests for relief of airflow obstruction when medicines such as albuterol or ipratropium are given.
    • Bronchoprovocation tests—lung function tests performed after exposure to methacholine to stimulate asthma;
      can help to confirm asthma in unclear cases
    • Exhaled nitric oxide (a marker of airway inflammation)—to help monitor asthma control

    Your doctor may also do some
    allergy tests
    . The test will help determine if allergies are causing symptoms. The test may include skin pricks or blood tests.

  • Prevention

    There are no guidelines for preventing asthma because the cause is unknown. However, you can help prevent asthma attacks by avoiding things that trigger your attacks.
    Triggers can vary from person to person but some general guidelines include:

    • Avoid strong chemicals or odors like perfume.
    • Avoid strenuous outdoor exercise during days with high air pollution, a high pollen count, or a high ozone level.

    • Get a yearly
      seasonal flu shot
      . Colds and flus can exacerbate asthma.
    • Don't smoke. If you are pregnant, it is very important that you do not smoke.
    • Avoid secondhand smoke. Do not allow anyone to smoke in your home.
    • Don't use a wood-burning stove or fireplace, including unvented gas fireplaces.
    • If cold weather triggers your asthma, avoid strenuous activities in cold weather. If you must, use a scarf or mask to warm the air before it reaches your lungs.

    Talk to your doctor about:

    • An appropriate level of exercise for you
    • Ways to track your asthma to help identify and treat flare-ups right away.
    • Your work, hobbies, and home activities to see if any of these may be causing or worsening your asthma.

  • Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase you risk for asthma include:

    • Regularly breathing in cigarette
      (including second-hand smoke)
    • Regularly breathing in industrial or agricultural chemicals
    • A family member who has asthma
    • History of multiple respiratory infections during childhood
    • Being overweight
    • History of wheezing or asthma as a child
    • Having allergies
    • Your mother smoked during pregnancy

  • Symptoms

    Symptoms include:

    • Wheezing
    • Tightness in the chest
    • Trouble breathing
    • Shortness of breath
    • Cough
    • Chest pain
    • Limited exercise tolerance, difficulty keeping up with peers

  • Treatment

    strategy for asthma includes:

    • Medications

    • Avoidance of allergens and irritants and control of contributing factors (such as
      gastroesophageal reflux
    • Regular assessment and monitoring

    You and your doctor should also create an asthma action plan. This is a plan you will follow to help control your asthma and handle asthma attacks.