Asthma is a condition that affects the smaller airways (bronchioles) of the lungs. From time to time the airways constrict (narrow) in people who have asthma. This causes the typical symptoms. The extent of the narrowing, and how long each episode lasts, can vary greatly.

Asthma can start at any age, but it most commonly starts in childhood. At least 1 in 10 children, and 1 in 20 adults, have asthma. Asthma runs in some families,but many people with asthma have no other family members affected.

Asthma is caused by inflammation in the airways. It is not known why the inflammation occurs. The inflammation irritates the muscles around the airways, and causes them to squeeze (constrict). This causes narrowing of the airways. It is then more difficult for air to get in and out of the lungs. This leads to wheezing and breathlessness. The inflammation also causes the lining of the airways to make extra mucus which causes cough and further obstruction to airflow.

Managing Your Asthma
Part of managing asthma is knowing the symptoms of an asthma attack. Symptoms of an asthma attack include:
  • Coughing
  • Drop in peak flow rate
  • Faster breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in chest
  • Wheezing
An important step in managing asthma is to reduce exposures to your asthma triggers. You may not be affected by all of the triggers listed here but by working with your doctor may be able to help you determine which triggers affect your asthma.
  • Allergens, such as:
    • Colds or flu
    • Dogs, or other animals
    • Dust or mold
    • Pollen from trees, grass and weeds
  • Environmental factors:
    • Air pollution
    • Aspirin or other medicines
    • Exercise
    • Weather changes or very cold air
  • Irritants, such as:
    • Smoke from cigarettes or from burning wood, paper, or other items
    • Strong odors from perfumes, paints, sprays, or other items
Preventive Measures
Things that can be done to prevent asthma attacks include:
  • Attempting to minimize exposure to known triggers of your asthma
  • Taking medications as directed by your physician
  • Watching for signs that your asthma is getting worse and talking to your doctor about any changes
  • Working with your doctor to learn more about your asthma
Most people with asthma are treated with inhalers. Inhalers deliver a small dose of drug directly to the airways. The dose is enough to treat the airways. However, the amount of drug that gets into the rest of your body is small so side-effects are unlikely or minor. There are various inhaler devices made by different companies. Different ones suit different people. A doctor or nurse will advise on the different types.

Tablets to Open Up the Airways

Most people do not need tablets as inhalers usually work well. However, in some cases a tablet (or in liquid form for children) is prescribed in addition to inhalers if symptoms are not fully eased by inhalers alone. Some young children use liquid medication instead of inhalers.

Steroid Tablets
A short course of steroid tablets (such as prednisolone) is sometimes needed to ease a severe or prolonged attack of asthma. Steroid tablets are good at reducing the inflammation in the airways. For example, a severe attack may occur if you have a cold or chest infection.

Spring Allergies: A Q&A with a Top Expert
  • Reference: WebMD the Magazine, by Michael W. Smith, MD
It’s springtime again and all across the country, people with allergies are sniffling, sneezing, and generally suffering from a surfeit of spring allergies. The chief medical editor at WebMD, Michael W. Smith, MD, sat down with nationally acclaimed allergist Jordan S. Josephson, MD, to get the latest news on causes, treatments, and home remedies for allergic reactions.