Want to know more about asthma and what it is?

We asked the National Institutes of Health for answers to basic questions.

We know: All About Asthma

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects your airways, which are the tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs. If you have asthma, the inside walls of your airways are inflamed (swollen). When the airways react, they get narrower and less air flows through to your lung tissues.

What are the symptoms of asthma?

Common symptoms include:

  • Coughing from asthma is often worse at night or early in the morning, making it hard to sleep.
  • Wheezing is a whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe.
  • Chest tightness feels like something is squeezing or sitting on your chest.
  • Shortness of breath is feeling like you can't get enough air in or out of your lungs.
  • Faster breathing or noisy breathing can also be symptoms of asthma.

What causes asthma?

The exact cause or causes are not known. The condition does seem to run in families. There are a variety of things that can make asthma symptoms worse and lead to attacks of asthma. These include exercise, allergens, irritants, and viral infections.

Allergens include things like animal dander, dust mites, pollen, mold and cockroaches.

Irritants include things like air pollution, cigarette smoke, strong odors, scented or perfumed products, and strong emotions like stress or crying.

In addition, certain medications, sulfites and infections can trigger asthma attacks.

How is asthma commonly treated?

Asthma treatment includes avoiding things that bring on your asthma symptoms or make symptoms worse. Doing so can reduce the amount of medicine you need to control your asthma. Allergy medicine and allergy shots in some cases may help your asthma.

What about asthma medications?

There are two main types of medicines for asthma:

Quick relief medicines are used only when needed. Short-acting inhaled bronchodilators work by relaxing tightened muscles around the airways. Anyone who has asthma should always have one of these inhalers in case of an attack. For severe attacks, your doctor may use steroids to treat the inflammation.

Long-term control medicines include:

  1. Inhaled corticosteroids (or steroids for short) are the preferred treatment for controlling mild, moderate, and severe persistent asthma. They are safe when taken as directed by your doctor. Inhaled medicines go directly into your lungs.
  2. Long-acting beta-agonists are another kind of long-term control medication. They are bronchodilators, not anti-inflammatory drugs. These medicines are used to help control moderate and severe asthma and to prevent nighttime symptoms. Long-acting beta-agonists are taken together with inhaled corticosteroid medicine.
  3. li>Cromolyn and nedocromil are also long-term control medicines used to treat mild persistent asthma.
  4. Theophylline is a long-term control medication used either alone to treat mild persistent asthma or together with inhaled corticosteroids to treat moderate persistent asthma. People who take theophylline should have their blood levels checked to be sure the dose is appropriate.

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