Friday, October 5, 2007

What Is Asthma?

Asthma is a lung condition that affects the airways (bronchial tubes) into your lungs, causing the tissues lining the airways to swell and become narrow making it difficult to breathe. The symptoms associated with asthma (coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath) are the result of this narrowing of the airways. The major factors contributing to asthma are inflammation of the airway lining and tightening of the muscles that wrap around the airways (bronchoconstriction). Inflammation of the airways may also be accompanied by an increase in mucus production which also worsens the blockage of the airways. The ongoing inflammation associated with asthma makes the airways highly sensitive to irritants in the air such as air pollution, cigarette smoke or animal dander.

Asthma is a variable disease, which means symptoms can flare up from time to time.
When the highly sensitive airways become too narrow, this obstructs the flow of air in and out of the inflamed lungs, making breathing difficult and leading to asthma symptoms, including wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, and chest tightness. This is known as an asthma attack or asthma exacerbation. Asthma is a variable disease. This means you might go for weeks or even months without experiencing any symptoms.

The best way to free yourself from asthma symptoms is to keep your asthma well controlled. Control means that your airways are not as sensitive to the allergens or irritants that can trigger an asthma attack. When your asthma is well controlled, you can lead a normal, healthy life with few symptoms and no days lost from work or school. An effective way of controlling your asthma is to have an asthma action plan. If you don't already have one, ask your doctor about asthma action plan. It should include: how to recognize when it's getting better or worse, how much you can change the amount of medication you take, and when you should adjust the amount of medication you take. Having an asthma action plan can help you be free from asthma symptoms.

Asthma symptoms can range in severity from mild to very severe. They can also fluctuate in terms of frequency, vary from person to person, and change from one attack to another. Symptoms may also occur more frequently at night or in the early morning.

Common symptoms of asthma include:
shortness of breath
chest tightness
difficulty breathing
chest pain
If you're not sure if your asthma is under control, click here to take the Asthma Control Challenge.

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