Asthma: What Is It And How Can It Be Treated?

Asthma is a common respiratory condition that affects over 24 million Americans. Asthma causes difficulty breathing, especially during exercise. Sufferers can also experience an 'asthma attack,' a sudden and debilitating escalation of symptoms, which can be life-threatening. However, asthma can be managed to ensure that it does not impede your daily activities. 

What Causes Asthma?

Air is carried in and out of the lungs through small tubes called bronchi. Asthma causes these tubes to inflame and constrict, impeding the flow of air in and out of the lungs, and thus causing difficulty breathing. Asthma is not a continuous condition but is instead brought on by exposure to a 'trigger.' These triggers irritate the lungs and stimulate the bronchi to constrict. 

There are two types of asthma, allergic and non-allergic, each of which has different triggers. Allergic asthma is triggered by exposure to an allergen, with common causes being pollen (grass or plant), pet dander and dust mite debris. Non-allergic asthma has a variety of triggers, with the most common being exercise, stress and airborne irritants (such as smoke). Non-allergic asthma can also be triggered by illnesses, such as the flu. 


Both allergic and non-allergic asthma share the same symptoms. Usually, asthma will cause a shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, and general breathing difficulties. In some cases, the normal symptoms of asthma may suddenly worsen. This is known as a asthma attack. During an asthma attack, the airways become even more constricted, leading to severe coughing and wheezing, tightness of the chest, and feelings of panic. If you believe you are experiencing an asthma attack, you should call 911 immediately.

Treating Asthma

Unfortunately, there is currently no outright cure for asthma, but there are treatments that can effectively manage the condition. These treatments focus on relieving the symptoms of asthma and reducing the frequency of asthma attacks. If you suffer from asthma, your doctor will be able to prescribe you medication. Most asthma medications are administered using an inhaler, a small, portable device that delivers the medication straight to the lungs.

Asthma medications help relax the muscles of the bronchi, thus increasing airflow to the lungs and relieving symptoms. Your doctor will teach you how and when to use your inhaler. In some cases, your doctor may also advise on the use of spacer. A spacer is a large, hollow container that can be fitted onto the mouthpiece of the inhaler. The spacer makes it easier to breathe in the medication and ensures that more ends up in the lungs, rather than being swallowed. 

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