Asthma is a chronic lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways. In people with asthma, the airways become sensitive to allergens or irritants in the environment and can trigger an Asthma attack. Asthma attacks cause the muscles around the airways to tighten and make it difficult to breathe. In severe cases, an asthma attack can be fatal. There is no cure for asthma, but it can be managed with medication and by avoiding triggers.

Who is affected by Asthma?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, asthma prevalence has been steadily rising in the United States since the 1980s. In 2009-2010, an estimated 8.4% of adults and 9.3% of children had asthma.  Asthma rates vary by gender, with boys consistently having higher rates than girls until adulthood when women overtake men.  Asthma also varies by age, with the highest rates seen in children aged 0-4 years and the lowest rates in adults aged 65 years and older.  Finally, asthma rates vary by race, with African-Americans having the highest rates followed by Caucasians and Hispanics/Latinos.  While the exact cause of asthma is unknown, trends in asthma epidemiology can help researchers develop better prevention and treatment strategies.

Who is at risk for Asthma?

There are a number of risk factors that have been identified as increasing the likelihood of developing asthma. These include:

  • Allergies: People with allergies are more likely to also suffer from asthma. Allergies can cause inflammation in the airways, making them more susceptible to triggers such as dust, pollen, or pet dander.

  • Respiratory infections: Viral respiratory infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia can increase the risk of developing asthma. These illnesses often lead to inflammation in the airways, which can make them more sensitive to triggers.

  • Smoking is a major risk factor for asthma. Cigarette smoke contains a number of irritants that can damage the lungs and airways, making them more susceptible to triggers. In addition, smoking can also make asthma symptoms worse.

  • Obesity: Being overweight or obese has been linked to an increased risk of developing asthma. Fat cells produce inflammatory chemicals that can trigger asthmatic symptoms. In addition, obesity can also make it harder to breathe, further exacerbating asthma symptoms.

  • Some medications, such as beta blockers and aspirin, have been linked to an increased risk of developing asthma. If you take any medication regularly, speak to your doctor about whether it could be a contributing factor.

  • Family history: If you have a family member with asthma, your risk of developing the condition is increased.

  • Cold or dry air

  • Stress 

  • GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is another common trigger, as stomach acid can irritate the lungs and throat. 

  • Certain foods and preservatives can also trigger asthma symptoms, including dairy products, shellfish, and peanuts.

  • Pollution and chemical exposure are also risk factors for asthma. If you are exposed to secondhand smoke, car exhaust, or hazardous chemicals, your risk of developing asthma increases. 

Thankfully, there are many ways to manage and reduce the risk of asthma attacks. With careful planning and medical support, people with asthma can lead healthy and active lives.

What are the signs and symptoms of Asthma?

Signs and symptoms may include: 

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest tightness

  • Chest pain

  • Wheezing

  • Sleeping difficulties caused by trouble breathing

  • Coughing

How is asthma diagnosed?

Your doctor will typically use a combination of medical history, physical exam, and lung function tests to make a diagnosis. Doctors will ask about symptoms, triggers, and family history of asthma or other respiratory conditions.  A physical exam can also provide important clues about asthma. For example, listening to the lungs with a stethoscope may reveal wheezing or other abnormalities. Lung function tests are often used to confirm an asthma diagnosis. These tests measure how well the lungs are able to move air in and out. Asthma sufferers typically have reduced lung function due to airway obstruction.  In some cases, additional tests such as allergy testing may be necessary to rule out other conditions. By taking a comprehensive approach, doctors can accurately diagnose asthma and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

What prescription medications treat asthma?

There are two types of medications used to treat asthma: rescue medications and control medications. Rescue medications are used to relieve symptoms during an asthma attack. Control medications are used regularly to prevent attacks from occurring. 

The most common rescue medication is a bronchodilator, which relaxes the muscles around the airways and makes it easier to breathe. These common short-term medications include:

  • Short-acting beta-agonists: albuterol and levalbuterol

  • Anticholinergics: ipratropium and tiotropium

  • Corticosteroids: prednisone and methylprednisolone

The most common control medications are inhaled steroids, which reduce inflammation in the airways. 

  • Inhaled corticosteroids: mometasone, budesonide, beclomethasone, ciclesonide, and fluticasone

  • Leukotriene modifiers: montelukast

  • Theophylline

In some cases, a nebulizer may also be used to deliver medication directly to the lungs. With proper treatment, people with asthma can live normal, active lives.

How can I manage my asthma with a healthy lifestyle?

Although there is no cure for asthma, there are a number of lifestyle changes that can help to relieve symptoms and prevent attacks.  First, it is important to avoid triggers such as pollen, dust, pet dander, and smoke. If possible, stay indoors, or wear a face mask, on days when the air is cold or dry or when air pollution levels are high.  In addition, it is important to exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight, as obesity can aggravate asthma.  Dust mites are another common trigger for asthma attacks, so it’s important to keep your home free of dust. Regular vacuuming and dusting can help, as well as using dust-proof covers on pillows and mattresses.  If pet dander is a trigger for you, try to keep pets out of your bedroom and off upholstered furniture. It is also helpful to create an Asthma Action Plan with your doctor, which should include information on how to recognize an asthma attack and what to do if one occurs. By taking these steps, you can help to control your asthma and live a normal, active life.

Asthma. Mother helping child with his inhaler

Top Asthma Medications

Budesonide Delayed-Release Capsules 3 mg
Generic for Entocort EC
Montelukast 10mg Tablet
Montelukast Sodium
Generic for Singulair

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