Asthma Library

What’s Asthma?

Who Gets Asthma?

Prevention and Care

Recommended Links

Asthma Index

We are a safe place to discuss your personal health issues.

Sign up for free!



Sign up for free email!

When Panic Attacks
When Panic Attacks

(More Video)

Online learning resources for diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and nutrition.
Diabetes 101: Learn more about diabetes, managing your blood sugar levels, and your diet.
Diabetes 201: Learn more about diabetes, managing your blood sugars, and your diet.
Asthma 101: Learn more about asthma and dealing with shortness of breath.
Hypertension 101: Learn more about hypertension and managing your blood pressure.
Nutrition 101: Learn more about improving your nutrition and diet

"Many candles can be kindled from one candle without diminishing it."
~The Midrash

Help me learn about:

We welcome all suggestions. Please tell us how to make savvyHEALTH even better.

Asthma Library: What is Asthma?

About Asthma

Signs and Symptoms

Common symptoms of asthma are wheezing, coughing, tightness in the chest and difficulty breathing.

Who gets it?

Asthma affects 17.3 million people in the United States, including nearly 5 million children. Although the disease can strike at any age, 50 percent of all cases are first seen in children under age 10.

Among children, boys are twice as likely to be affected than girls are. Childhood asthma may fade with age. Environmental factors trigger attacks in 85 percent of those with the asthma, but the disease does appear to have a genetic component as well.

Four to 5 percent of the United States population has asthma; however, among those who have a parent or sibling with the disease, the incidence jumps to about 20 to 25 percent.

What is happening in the body?

For most people with asthma the wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing and tightness in the chest that come with an attack are essentially the manifestations of an allergic reaction. When an allergen (an allergy causing substance) enters the airways through the nose or mouth, it interacts with a specific antibody causing the release of chemicals — histamine, leukotrienes and prostaglandins.

These chemicals trigger the contraction of the smooth muscle that lines the airways. The airway linings become inflamed and a thick, clogging mucus is secreted. This muscle squeezing, swelling and excess mucus blocks airflow in and out of the lungs, making it difficult to breathe. Four to six hours after the initial exposure to the allergen (the late-phase reaction) an army of white blood cells arrives on the scene causing a second bout of inflammation that again leads to difficulty breathing.

While it is not yet known what triggers an attack in nonallergic asthma, the body’s reaction is the same. The chemicals released cause the same affects and the patient suffers the same wheezing and/or coughing symptoms.

While asthma episodes can be triggered by allergic and non-allergic mechanisms, the most common triggers are allergies to pollen, animal dander (particles of hair and skin) and insect droppings present in dust.

Other triggers include: exposure to environmental pollutants and chemicals, cold, dry air, emotional stress, upper respiratory infection, sinusitis and postnasal drip, exertion, and abrupt changes in the weather, as well as drugs such as Aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, sulfites added to foods and certain medications, and beta-blockers.

Exercise is also known to induce contraction of muscles that line the airways in a phenomenon called exercise-induced asthma.

The frequency of asthma attacks is highly variable. Some patients may have very infrequent, brief attacks, while others may suffer nearly continuous symptoms. According to the National Institutes of Health, asthma has four levels of severity: mild intermittent, mild persistent, moderate persistent and severe persistent.

In the mildest forms symptoms appear briefly, less than twice a week while the most severe form is characterized by continual symptoms, prolonged crises, limitations to physical activity and lung function which is below 60 percent of normal.

Back to What Is Asthma

Copyright © 2000-2022 All rights reserved.

About savvyHEALTH | Privacy | Feedback | Home

All contents copyright © 1999-2022 savvyHEALTH, Inc. All rights reserved.

This internet site provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. If you have any concerns about your own health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional. Please review the Terms of Use before using this site. Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by the Terms of Use.