Asthma is a chronic medical condition that involves your respiratory system. Specifically, it involves episodic constriction or narrowing of your airways. Your airways are the passages that allow air to flow to and from your lungs. When you have an asthma episode or attack, the lining of your airways becomes inflamed and very sensitive. A high amount of mucus is produced by the airway walls and begins to coat them. When this happens, breathing becomes very difficult because you are not able to get a normal amount of air to your lungs.
When your airways become sensitive, they may respond to certain things in the environment, known as triggers. These triggers include things such as cigarette smoke, perfumes or colognes, pet dander, cold or moist air, physical exercise or activity, or even stress or anxiety that you are experiencing. Allergies can also exacerbate asthma symptoms. In children, a virus is often the trigger. These triggers may in turn cause an asthma attack.
An asthma attack generally includes symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, and overall difficulty breathing. Asthma attacks may vary in severity. Many are relatively minor. But a severe asthma attack can be fatal if not quickly treated because your vital organs are not getting enough oxygen.
Generally, an asthma attack can be fairly quickly alleviated by the use of what is called a rescue inhaler, or short-acting bronchodilator. These contain beta 2-agonists which help open up the bronchial tubes by relaxing the surrounding muscles, thus allowing oxygen to once again pass through more normally. They also help reduce the amount of mucus in the lungs. Long-acting bronchodilators are often used regularly to control asthma symptoms.
There is no cure for asthma, but most people with asthma can live very normal lives. Asthma is typically managed by a combination of regular medication and occasional use of a rescue inhaler. Lifestyle and environmental changes may also be required to keep asthma symptoms under control.
Asthma can start in infancy, but many people don't develop asthma until sometime in their adult years. Sometimes symptoms and episodes are fairly frequent, and other times there may be long periods between any symptoms or attacks.
Because asthma can be life-threatening, it is important to see your doctor regularly if you have asthma. Your doctor can recommend the best course of treatment and make adjustments over time as needed to best keep your symptoms under control.