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What is Asthma | symptoms and treatment?

  • Symptoms
  • Types
  • Diagnosis
  • Classifications
  • Causes
  • Treatment
  • Exacerbations
  • Asthma vs. COPD
  • Prevention
  • Management
  • When to see a doctor

Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways that affects the lungs. This makes breathing difficult and can make certain physical activities difficult or even impossible.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 25 million Americans suffer from asthma.
It is the most common chronic disease in American children: 1 in 12 children have asthma.

To understand asthma, you need to understand what happens when you breathe.

Normally, with each breath you take, the air passes through your nose or mouth and down your throat and airways, eventually reaching your lungs.

There are many small air passages in the lungs that help carry oxygen from the air to the bloodstream.

Asthma symptoms occur when the lining of the airways swells and the muscles around them contract. The mucus will then clog the airways, which will reduce the amount of air that can pass through even more.

These conditions can lead to an asthma “attack”, cough, and chest tightness typical of asthma.


The most common symptom of asthma is wheezing, screaming, or hissing that occurs when you breathe.

Other asthma symptoms can include:

  • coughing, especially at night, while laughing or exercising
  • chest tightness
  • difficulty in breathing
  • difficulty speaking
  • anxiety or panic
  • tired

The type of asthma you have can determine the symptoms you experience.

Not all people with asthma will experience these specific symptoms. If you think the symptoms you are experiencing may be a sign of an illness like asthma, make an appointment with your doctor.

The first indication that you have asthma may not be a real asthma attack.


There are many types of asthma. The most common type is asthma, which affects the bronchi of the lungs.

Other forms of asthma include childhood asthma and asthma beginning in adulthood. In adult asthma, symptoms do not appear until at least 20 years of age.

Other specific types of asthma are described below.

Allergic asthma (extrinsic asthma)
Allergens trigger this common type of asthma. This may include:

animal hair like dogs and cats
Allergic asthma is usually seasonal, as it often accompanies seasonal allergies.

Non-allergic asthma (intrinsic asthma)
Airborne irritants unrelated to allergies trigger this type of asthma. These irritants can include:

Burning firewood
cigarette smoke
Cold air
air pollution
viral diseases
household cleaning products
Occupational asthma
Occupational asthma is a type of asthma caused in the workplace.. These include:

gas and fumes
industrial chemicals
animal protein
rubber latex
These stimuli can exist in a variety of industries, including:


Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB)

Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) typically affects people within minutes of starting exercise and up to 10 to 15 minutes after exercise

This condition was previously called exercise-induced asthma (AIS).

Up to 90% of asthma patients have also had BIE, but not all people with BIE will have other types of asthma.

Aspirin-induced asthma

Aspirin-induced asthma (AIA), also called aspirin-induced respiratory disease (AERD), is usually severe.

It is stimulated by taking aspirin or another NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) such as naproxen (Aleve) or ibuprofen (Advil).

Symptoms can start within minutes or hours. These patients also often have nasal polyps.

About 9% of asthma patients have AIA. It usually occurs suddenly in adults between the ages of 20 and 50..

Nocturnal asthma

In this type of asthma, the symptoms get worse at night.

Triggers believed to cause symptoms at night include:

pet fur
The human body’s natural sleep cycle can also cause nighttime asthma.

Cough-variant asthma (CVA)

The cough variant (CVA) does not have the classic symptoms of asthma, such as wheezing and shortness of breath. Is characterized by a persistent, dry cough

If left untreated, stroke can cause asthma attacks that include other more common symptoms.

The Diagnosis

There is no single test or exam to determine if you or your child has asthma. Instead, your doctor will use a variety of criteria to determine whether your symptoms are the result of asthma.

The following can help diagnose asthma:

Health history. If you have family members with breathing problems, the risk is greater. Let your doctor know about this genetic connection.

Physical examination. Your doctor will hear your breathing through a stethoscope. You can also do a skin test to look for signs of an allergic reaction, such as hives or eczema. Allergies increase the risk of asthma.

Breath tests. Lung function tests (PFT) measure the flow of air in and out of the lungs. For the most common test, spirometry, you blow on a device that measures air speed.
Doctors usually do not perform breath tests on children under the age of 5 because it is difficult to get an accurate reading.

Instead, they can prescribe asthma remedies for your child and wait to see if the symptoms improve. If so, your child probably has asthma.

For adults, your doctor may prescribe a bronchodilator or other asthma medication if the test results indicate asthma.

If your symptoms improve with the use of this medicine, your doctor will continue to treat your condition, such as asthma.


To help diagnose and treat asthma, the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (NAEPP) categorizes the disease based on its severity before treatment.

The classifications of asthma include:

Intermittent. Most people suffer from this type of asthma, which does not interfere with daily activities. Symptoms are mild and last less than two days a week or two nights a month.

Slightly persistent. Symptoms occur more than twice a week, but not every day, and up to four nights a month.
Moderate persistent. Symptoms occur every day and at least one night a week, but not every night. They can limit certain daily activities.
Severe persistent. Symptoms will occur several times during the day and most nights. Daily activities are extremely limited.


No single cause of asthma has been identified. Instead, researchers believe respiratory disease is caused by a variety of factors. These factors include:

Genetic. If a parent or sibling has asthma, they are more likely to develop it.
History of viral infections. People with a history of serious viral infections during childhood (for example, RSV) may be more likely to develop the disease.

Hygiene assumption. This theory explains that when babies are not exposed to enough bacteria during the first few months and years, their immune systems do not become strong enough to fight asthma and other allergic conditions.


Asthma treatments fall into three main categories:

breathing exercises
fast acting treatments
long-term asthma control drugs
Your doctor will recommend a treatment or a combination of treatments based on:

the type of asthma

your age
your triggers
Breathing exercises
These exercises can help you get more air in and out of your lungs. Over time, this can help increase lung capacity and reduce severe asthma symptoms.

Your doctor or occupational therapist can help you learn these breathing exercises for asthma.

Asthma Quick Relief Treatments

These medicines should only be used if you have symptoms of asthma or an attack. They can quickly relieve stress and help you breathe again.

Bronchodilators work within minutes to relax tight muscles around radio waves. They can be taken as an inhaler (rescue) or a nebulizer.

First aid treatment for asthma
If you think someone you know is having an asthma attack, tell them you’re ready and help them use the rescue inhaler or nebulizer. Two to six doses of medication should help relieve symptoms.

If symptoms persist for more than 20 minutes and a second round of medication does not help, see an emergency doctor.

If you need to use rapid-relief medications frequently, you should ask your doctor for another type of medication for long-term asthma control.

Long-term medications for asthma control
These medications, taken daily, help reduce the number and severity of asthma symptoms, but they do not control the immediate symptoms of an attack.

Long-term asthma control drugs include:

Anti-inflammatory. Taken with an inhaler, corticosteroids and other anti-inflammatory drugs help reduce swelling and mucus production in air waves, making it easier to breathe.
Anticholinergics. This helps prevent the muscles from contracting around the radio waves. They are usually taken daily in combination with anti-inflammatory drugs.

Long-acting bronchodilators. They should only be used in conjunction with anti-inflammatory d rugs for asthma. medications.

Biological therapy drugs. These new injectable drugs can help people with severe asthma.. Bronchial thermoplasty
This treatment uses an electrode to heat the air waves inside the lungs, which helps reduce the size of the muscle and prevents it from contracting.

Bronchial thermoforming is suitable for people with severe asthma. It is not widely available.

When asthma symptoms gradually worsen, it is called an asthma exacerbation or attack.

It is increasingly difficult to breathe because the airways are inflamed and the bronchi are narrow.

Symptoms of an exacerbation can include:

  • hyperventilation
  • cough
  • Wheezing
  • shortness in breathing
  • increased heart rate
  • commotion

Although an exacerbation can end quickly without medication, you should contact your doctor as it can be fatal.

The longer an exacerbation lasts, the more it can affect your ability to breathe. This is why exacerbations often require a visit to the emergency room.

Exacerbations can be avoided by using medications that help control asthma symptoms.

Asthma vs COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma are often confused.

They produce similar symptoms, including wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. However, the two conditions are quite different.

COPD is a general term used to identify a group of progressive respiratory diseases that include chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

These diseases result in reduced air flow due to inflammation of the airways. Conditions can worsen over time.

Asthma can occur at any age, and most diagnoses occur in childhood. Most people with COPD are at least 45 years old when diagnosed.

More than 40% of people with COPD also have asthma, and the risk of both diseases increases with age.

The causes of asthma other than genetics are unclear, but asthma attacks are often the result of exposure to triggering factors, such as physical activity or odor. These triggers can make breathing problems worse.

The most common cause of COPD is smoking. In fact, smoking is responsible for 9 out of 10 COPD-related deaths.

The goal of asthma and COPD treatment is to reduce symptoms so that you can maintain an active lifestyle.


Certain conditions and environments can also trigger asthma symptoms. The list of possible causes and triggers is long. Triggers include:

Disease. Respiratory illnesses like viruses, pneumonia, and the flu can trigger asthma attacks.
Exercise. Increased movement can make it difficult to breathe.
Irritants in the air. People with asthma can be sensitive to irritants, such as chemical fumes, strong odors, and smoke.

Allergens Animal hair, dust mites and pollen are just a few examples of allergens that can trigger symptoms.
Extreme weather conditions. Conditions like very high humidity or low temperatures can trigger asthma.
Emotions Screaming, laughing and crying can trigger an attack.


Since researchers have yet to identify the exact cause of asthma, knowing how to prevent inflammatory disease is a challenge.

However, more information is known on how to prevent asthma attacks. These strategies include:

Avoid triggers. Stay away from chemicals, smells, or products that have caused you breathing problems in the past.

Reduce exposure to allergens. If you’ve identified any allergens, such as dust or mold, that trigger an asthma attack, avoid them as best you can.

Give allergy shots. Allergen immunotherapy is a type of treatment that can help alter the immune system. With routine injections, your body may become less sensitive to any trigger you are having.

Take preventative medication. Your doctor may prescribe medicine for you to take every day. This medicine can be used in addition to what it uses in an emergency.

Your doctor can help you make an asthma action plan so you know what treatments to use and when.

In addition to using maintenance medications, there are things you can do every day to help you be healthier and lower your risk of asthma attacks. These include:

Eat a healthier diet. Eat a healthy and balanced diet can help you improve your overall health.
Maintain a healthy weight. Asthma tends to get worse in overweight and obese people. Losing weight is healthy for the heart, joints and lungs.

Stop smoking. Irritants such as cigarette smoke can trigger asthma and increase the risk of COPD.

Regular exercise. Activity can trigger an asthma attack, but regular exercise can really help reduce the risk of breathing problems.

Control stress. Stress can trigger asthma symptoms. Stress can also make it difficult to stop an asthma attack..

Foods rich in nutrients are essential to help reduce symptoms, but food allergies can trigger asthma symptoms.

When to see a doctor

There is currently no cure for asthma. However, there are many effective treatments that can help with asthma symptoms. Lifestyle changes and medication can also help improve your quality of life.

If you have not been diagnosed with asthma, but have symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, or shortness of breath, you should tell your doctor. You can contact a doctor in your area using the Healthline FindCare tool.

After being diagnosed with asthma, you should see your doctor at least once a year or more often if you experience symptoms that persist after using the treatments.

Call your doctor immediately if:

  • I feel faint
  • unable to perform daily activities
  • have wheezing or a cough that doesn’t go away
  • It is important to know more about your condition and its symptoms. The more you know, the more proactive you can be in improving lung function and how you feel.

Talk to your doctor about:

your type of asthma
what triggered your symptoms
which daily treatments are best for you
Your asthma attack treatment plan

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