What is asthma?
Asthma is a disease in which the airways become blocked or narrowed. These effects are usually temporary, but they cause shortness of breath, breathing trouble and other symptoms. If an asthma attack is severe, a person may need emergency treatment to restore normal breathing.
About 15 million Americans have asthma, including nearly five million children under age 18. This health problem is the reason for nearly half-a-million hospital stays each year. People with asthma can be of any race, age or sex. Its treatment costs billions of dollars each year.
Despite the far-reaching effects of asthma, much remains to be learned about what causes it and how to prevent it. Although asthma can cause severe health problems, in most cases treatment can control it and allow a person to live a normal and active life.
What Causes Asthma Attacks?
Things in the environment trigger an asthma attack. These triggers vary from person to person, but common ones include cold air, exercise, allergens (things that cause allergies) such as dust mites, mold, pollen, animal dander or cockroach debris, and some types of viral infections.
When you breathe in, air travels through your nose and/or mouth through a tube called the trachea (sometimes referred to as the "windpipe"). From the trachea, it enters a series of smaller tubes that branch off from the trachea. These branched tubes are the bronchi, and they divide further into smaller tubes called the bronchioles. It is in the bronchi and bronchioles that asthma has its main effects.
Here is how the process occurs. When the airways come into contact with an allergen, the tissue inside the bronchi and bronchioles becomes inflamed (inflammation). At the same time, the muscles on the outside of the airways tighten up (constriction), causing them to narrow. A thick fluid (mucus) enters the airways, which become swollen. The breathing passages are narrowed still more, and breathing is hampered.
Why are Some Infants and Toddlers More Susceptible to Getting Asthma?