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Asthma is an inflammatory disorder of the airways, which causes attacks of wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing.

Causes of Asthma

Asthma is caused by inflammation in the airways. When an asthma attack occurs, the muscles surrounding the airways become tight and the lining of the air passages swells. This reduces the amount of air that can pass by.

In sensitive people, asthma symptoms can be triggered by breathing in allergy-causing substances (called allergens or triggers).

Common asthma triggers include:

Aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) provoke asthma in some patients.

Many people with asthma have a personal or family history of allergies, such as hay fever (allergic rhinitis) or eczema.

Symptoms of Asthma

lungsMost people with asthma have attacks separated by symptom-free periods. Some people have long-term shortness of breath with episodes of increased shortness of breath. Either wheezing or a cough may be the main symptom.

Asthma attacks can last for minutes to days, and can become dangerous if the airflow is severely restricted.

Symptoms include:

Wheezing, which:

Emergency symptoms:

Other symptoms that may occur with this disease:

Exams and Tests for Allergies

Allergy testing may be helpful to identify allergens in people with persistent asthma. Common allergens include:

Common respiratory irritants include:

The doctor will use a stethoscope to listen to the lungs. Asthma-related sounds may be heard. However, lung sounds are usually normal between asthma episodes.

Tests may include:

Treatment for Asthma

The goal of treatment is to avoid the substances that trigger your symptoms and control airway inflammation. You and your doctor should work together as a team to develop and carry out a plan for eliminating asthma triggers and monitoring symptoms.

There are two basic kinds of medication for treating asthma:

Control drugs for asthma control your symptoms if you don't have mild asthma. You must take them every day for them to work. Take them even when you feel okay.

The most common control drugs are:

Other control drugs that may be used are:

Asthma quick-relief drugs work fast to control asthma symptoms:

Quick-relief drugs for Asthma include:

A severe asthma attack requires a check-up by a doctor. You may also need a hospital stay, oxygen, and medications given through a vein (IV).

Asthma action plans are written documents for anyone with asthma. An asthma action plan should include:

A peak flow meter is a simple device to measure how quickly you can move air out of your lungs.

Support Groups for Asthma and Allergies

You can often ease the stress caused by illness by joining a support group, where members share common experiences and problems.

Outlook / Prognosis for Asthma

There is no cure for asthma, although symptoms sometimes improve over time. With proper self management and medical treatment, most people with asthma can lead normal lives.

Possible Complications of Asthma

The complications of asthma can be severe. Some include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if asthma symptoms develop.

Call your health care provider or go to the emergency room if:

Go to the emergency room if:


You can reduce asthma symptoms by avoiding known triggers and substances that irritate the airways.

Persons with asthma should also avoid air pollution, industrial dusts, and other irritating fumes as much as possible.

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