What is Asthma?: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments of Asthma Image

Asthma is a chronic, incurable disease that affects the bronchial tubes – or “airways” – of the lungs.

Asthmatics produce an excess of thick mucus in their bronchial tubes, which are also often very sensitive to external triggers (such as dry air and cigarette smoke). These external triggers can cause the airways to constrict and the bronchial muscles to tighten, rendering difficulty in breathing. This is called an “asthma attack,” and it can be quite serious – if the internal organs don’t get enough oxygen, an asthma attack can be fatal.

However, there are many treatments available for asthma. These include avoiding asthma attack triggers and taking medications to manage symptoms.

Asthma Symptoms

Asthma symptoms range greatly in severity from person to person. Some asthmatics can go weeks without a flare-up or attack, while others struggle with asthma symptoms every day.

Common symptoms of asthma include:

  • Audible wheezing or whistling while breathing
  • Coughing attacks
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble breathing.

Types of Asthma

There are several types of asthma, which are classified in part by the event that triggers the attack.

Common types of asthma include:

  • Allergy-triggered asthma: A vast majority of asthmatics have allergies that trigger asthma attacks. Common allergies include cigarette smoke, peanuts, shellfish and pollen, which cause itching, sneezing, and a runny nose. In many cases, allergens can also trigger the bronchial tubes to inflame, resulting in an asthma attack.
  • Exercise-induced asthma (EIA): One of the most common types of asthma in children, EIA is triggered by physical activity, like running. EIA can generally be controlled with proper treatment.

Other asthma triggers, which are less common, include:

  • Certain medications
  • Menstruation
  • Stressful or emotional situations.

Risk Factors and Causes of Asthma

Doctors don’t know exactly why some people develop asthma and others don’t. Research points to genetics – in some cases, asthma is likely inherited. In other cases, it may be caused by environmental factors.

Some people are more likely to develop asthma than others. This includes those who:

  • Are frequently exposed to secondhand smoke, harsh chemicals or air pollution
  • Are overweight
  • Have a family history of asthma
  • Have a history of breathing problems and respiratory infections
  • Were born underweight.

Asthma Treatment Plans

The most common asthma treatment involves avoidance of triggers. Most asthmatics also take medication to control their symptoms.

There are two main types of asthma medication:

  • Long-term control medications often need to be taken daily. They generally work to reduce bronchial inflammation and mucous production in the lungs, which makes breathing easier and an asthma attack less likely.
  • Quick-relief medications, often in the form of inhalers, work to treat an asthma attack or prepare an asthmatic’s lungs for physical activity.
  • Asthma treatment plans tend to vary with each individual, depending on his symptoms and their severity.

Asthma Facts and Figures

Asthma is a very common disease. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAI), about 300 million people around the world suffer from asthma. Asthma in children is particularly common.

Also, according to the AAAI, about 70 percent of asthmatics also suffer from allergies.


Kids Health Staff. (n.d.). About asthma. Retrieved November 20, 2009, from the Kids Health Web site:

Mayo Clinic Staff. (n.d.) Asthma: Causes. Retrieved November 20, 2009, from the Mayo Clinic Web site:

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Staff. (n.d.). What is asthma? Retrieved November 20, 2009, from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Web site:

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology staff (2008). Asthma statistics. Retrieved November 20, 2009, from the AAAAI Web site: