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Asthma is a disease of the lungs that makes it hard to breathe. There is no cure for asthma, but it can be controlled. With the right care, people with asthma can lead healthy, active lives.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic (long-term) disease of the lungs. You do not “catch” asthma like you do the common cold. It tends to run in families. Children who have a close family member with asthma are more likely to have asthma themselves.

With asthma, three changes happen inside the lungs to make it hard to breathe:

  1. The lining of the airways become swollen (called inflammation). This makes the airways smaller and harder for air to move through.
  2. The muscles around the airways tighten (called constriction), making them smaller.
  3. The airways make thick mucus, which traps the air.

Symptoms of asthma vary. Common symptoms include:

  • Coughing during the day, at night, or with exercise
  • Trouble breathing
  • Wheezing (whistling sound when you breathe)
  • Chest tightness
  • Trouble sleeping/waking at night
  • Drop in peak flow reading (a device used to measure lung function)

When asthma is controlled, people have few or no symptoms and can lead normal lives. Seeing your doctor often, even when you are feeling well, allows for changes in your medications and treatment plan if needed. This helps avoid asthma symptoms.

Asthma Triggers

Triggers are things that can cause asthma symptoms and make it hard to breathe. Work with your doctor to learn how to avoid your asthma triggers. Common triggers include:

  • Exercise: Ask your doctor if you should take quick-relief asthma medicine before you exercise. Try a slow warm-up first. Avoid exercise on smoggy days.
  • Colds/Viruses: Wash your hands often. Avoid touching your eyes and nose. Get a flu shot each year.
  • Allergies: For many people, asthma is triggered by an allergy to dust or dust mites, pollen, mold, foods, and animals. To cut down on dust mites, wash bedding, including mattress covers, each week in hot water. Bathe pets once a week and keep them out of the bedroom and off fabric-covered furniture.
  • Irritants: These might include cigarette smoke, perfumes, air pollution, and aerosol sprays. Don’t smoke; ask family and friends not to smoke in your home or car, and ask them not to wear perfumes and products with heavy scents.
  • Weather: On cold days, cover your nose and mouth with a scarf. Check weather reports for high pollen counts and stay inside on those days.

It is important to treat asthma symptoms as early as possible. When asthma is triggered and you don’t act right away, your symptoms may get harder to treat and last longer.

There are different kinds of medicines to control asthma.

  • Quick relief medicines open the airways fast to stop an asthma attack once there are asthma warning signs. Let your doctor or nurse know if you find that you need to use your quick relief medicine more than twice a week.
  • Prevention-controller medicines help cut down on swelling and mucus. They must be taken every day, even when you feel good and have no asthma signs.