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 What is Asthma?  Who gets it?  Can it be controlled? What’s next?

  • An asthma is chronic lung diseases that inflames and narrows the airways.  The narrowed airway is responsible for the difficulty in breathing with the familiar “wheeze”.  An asthma event (or attack) can cause this wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breathe and coughing.
  • Anyone can have asthma and sometimes it isn’t diagnosed until adulthood.
  • Good news:  Asthma can be controlled!
  • Check out the Asthma To Do List below for your map to managed asthma!
  • Asthma is characterized by excessive sensitivity of the lungs to various stimuli. Triggers range from viral infections to allergies, to irritating gases and particles in the air. Each person reacts differently to the factors that may trigger asthma, including:
    • respiratory infections, colds
    • allergic reactions to allergens such as pollen, mold, animal dander,
    • feathers, dust, food, and cockroaches
    • exposure to cold air or sudden temperature change
    • cigarette smoke
    • excitement/stress
    • exercise
Asthma and  children…
  • Asthma is the third leading cause of hospitalization among children under the age of 15. Approximately 32.7 percent of all asthma hospital discharges in 2006 were in those under 15, however only 20.1% of the U.S. population was less than 15 years old.
  • Asthma is one of the most common chronic disorder in childhood, currently affecting an estimated 7.1 million children under 18 years; of which 4.1 million suffered from an asthma attack or episode in 2009.
  • Asthma is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism;8 in 2008, asthma accounted for an estimated 14.4 million lost school days in children with an asthma attack in the previous year.
  • Secondhand smoke can cause serious harm to children. An estimated 400,000 to one million asthmatic children have their condition worsened by exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Two classes of medications have been used to treat asthma — anti-inflammatory agents and bronchodilators. Anti-inflammatory drugs interrupt the development of bronchial inflammation and have a preventive action. They may also modify or terminate ongoing inflammatory reactions in the airways. These agents include inhaled corticosteroids, cromolyn sodium, and other anti-inflammatory compounds. A new class of anti-inflammatory medications known as leukotriene modifiers, which work in a different way by blocking the activity of chemicals called leukotrienes that are involved in airway inflammation have recently come on the market.
Asthma and adults
  • In 2008, it was estimated that 23.3 million Americans currently have asthma. Of these, 12.7 million Americans (4.1 million children under 18) had an asthma attack.
  • In 2008, asthma accounted for an estimated 14.2 million lost work days in adults.
  • Lung function declines faster than average in people with asthma, particularly in people who smoke and in those with excessive mucus production (an indicator of poor treatment control).
  • Asthma medications help reduce underlying inflammation in the airways and relieve or prevent symptomatic airway narrowing. Control of inflammation should lead to reduction in airway sensitivity and help prevent airway obstruction.
  • A study by the American Lung Association Asthma Clinical Research Center (ACRC) found that the inactivated influenza vaccine is safe to administer to adults and children with asthma, including those with severe asthma.9 Influenza causes substantial illness in adults and children with asthma requiring emergency room visits and hospitalization, and vaccination can mostly prevent influenza and its complications. Currently, 45.6% of adults with asthma receive the influenza vaccine.


Asthma is a chronic (long-term), inflammatory disorder of the airways. That means, the tubes that bring air to the lungs are constantly swollen and inflamed. This swelling makes it more difficulty for air to move freely in and out. Those airways are also sensitive to certain triggers, and these triggers can differ from person to person.

Sometimes the terms “reactive airway disease” and “asthma” are used interchangeably. However, they’re not necessarily the same thing.  Reactive airway disease is a general term that doesn’t indicate a specific diagnosis. It may be used to describe a history of coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath of unknown cause. These signs and symptoms may or may not be caused by asthma. Reactive airway disease isn’t really a specific diagnosis.  The image below is a quick snap shot of what is going on in your lungs!

For more asthma related terms, visit Glossary of Asthma Terms created by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).

Your Asthma TO DO list; with these under your belt you are well on your way to success

  • Know your asthma triggers.
  • Know when your asthma is and is not well controlled
  • Visit your doctor at least once yearly about your asthma and have a lung function test
  • Always carry rescue medications: bronchodialator inhaler or nebulizer and oral steroid, if prescribed; epinephrine
  • Have an Asthma Action Plan in place.
  • Learn how to use a peak flow meter.
  • If you leave town, remember to pack your maintenance medications
  • Bottom line: asthma is controllable and working with your physician to find the best plan for you is key!  Sometimes, it takes a while to discover your triggers and how to avoid them, but you can do it.  Staying proactive and planning ahead are some of the best things you can do!
    Asthma To Do list provide by Dr. Joshua Jacobs of Allergy and Asthma Group of the Bay Area, Inc.
    Fact checker:
    National Institute of Health
    American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology