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What Is Asthma?

Definition, Statistics, Types & Causes of Asthma

By Pat Bass, MD
Asthma Expert





Allergy Diagnosis

Prevent Asthma Attack

Allergy Induced Asthma

All About Asthma

Reducing Allergy Symptoms

Lung PFT


Asthma Basics- What You Need to Know and Do About Your Asthma

Treatment Options- Learn About Different Treatments For Your Asthma

Prevention & Control- Don't Let Asthma Control You

Triggers- What Sets Off Your Asthma?

Daily Coping- Things You Can Do Everyday To Improve YourAsthma

Exercise Induced Asthma- When Exercise Leads Asthma Symptoms

Working With Your Doctor- Expectations, Relationships & Questions

Asthma & Alternative Therapy- Alternative Medical Treatments In Asthma

Adult Asthma- Developing Asthma Symptoms After Childhood

Kid's Asthma- Developing Symptoms In Childhood

Research- The Latest News And Research Related To Asthma

FAQ-Frequently Asked Questions And Answers AboutAsthma

Glossary- Medical Terms Related To Asthma So Everyone Understands

Asthma Resources


Do I Have Asthma? What Do I Do Now?

Asthma Treatment

Asthma Prevention

Updated Articles and Resources


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What Is Asthma. Photo Stockbyte

Updated March 16, 2015.

A Definition
What is asthma is a common question among newly diagnosed asthma patients. Asthma is a chronic lung disease that
causes episodes of difficult breathing. Asthma symptoms are caused primarily due to constriction, tightening of the
muscles surrounding the airways, and inflammation, soreness, swelling and irritation of the airways in the lungs.

Important Statistics
More than 22 million people -- and some 6 million children -- have asthma.
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Allergy Diagnosis

Prevent Asthma Attack

Allergy Induced Asthma

All About Asthma

Everyday in the United States:

40,000 people will miss school or work because of asthma

30,000 people will have an asthma attack

5,000 people will visit the emergency room because of their asthma

1,000 people will be admitted to the hospital because of asthma

11 people will die due to asthma

Different Types of Asthma

There are actually several different types of asthma. Understanding the specific type of asthma you have can help you get
the mosteffective treatment. Some the types of are:

Allergic asthma

Exercise induced asthma

Occupational asthma

Cough variant asthma

Nocturnal (nighttime) asthma

Causes of Asthma
Asthma has increased dramatically over the last several decades. While the exact cause of asthma is unknown, many think
the following factors act together to cause asthma or are risk factors for asthma:

Atopy, or an inherited tendency to develop allergy

Family history of asthma

Contracting certain respiratory infections in early childhood

Exposure to some airborne allergens and viral infections during early childhood as the immune system develops.
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Other allergens like animal dander

Allergic rhinitis

Exposure to cigarette smoke


Airway hyperreactivity (an exaggerated airway responsiveness to various stimuli)

Normal vs. Asthmatic Breathing

When a person without asthma breathes in, the air:

Enters through the nose or mouth.


Goes down the trachea, or windpipe.


Enters the bronchioles, or airways of the lung.


Blood is oxygenated at the alveoli.


Goes back out again.

However, for asthmatics, this process is different and more difficult. In asthma patients, the airways are very sensitive and
may react to a number of different triggers, such as smoke, pollens and infections, leading to constriction and
inflammation of the airways.Constriction and inflammation cause airflow obstruction, making it difficult to breathe.
Asthma symptoms will wax and wane over time with treatment focused on both the prevention and control of
symptoms and the reduction of inflammation.

Asthma Symptoms
The constriction and inflammation may cause patients to experience some or all of the following symptoms:


Chest tightness

Shortness of breath

Chronic cough
Everyone's asthma is different. You may experience other symptoms and symptoms will vary in intensity. For more
information about signs and symptoms of asthma, visit's Symptom Checker, an interactive tool to help you
learn more about signs and symptoms of asthma and other diseases.

Diagnosing Asthma
In general diagnosing asthma requires 2 specific criteria:

Presence of symptoms compatible with asthma.


Objective measurement of decreased airflow in your lungs using a specific measurement like peak expiratory
Your health care provider will generally take a detailed history from you and perform aphysical exam. Your healthcare
provider may order tests to assist in making a diagnosis such as:

Pulmonary function testing

Chest x-ray

Blood tests

Asthma Treatment
Treatment for your or your child's asthma will primarily involve three main components:

Monitoring of your peak expiratory flow and asthma symptoms.


Avoidance of triggers.


Treatment with medications.

It is important that you regularly visit your healthcare provider and follow your action plan inorder to get control of your

While medicine cannot currently prevent you or your child from getting asthma, you can learn how to get control of
asthma and prevent asthma symptoms from significantly impacting you.

Learn More About Asthma Prevention

Understanding Asthma Triggers Is A Key To Asthma Prevention

Decreasing Exposure to Asthma Triggers Is an Important Part of Your Treatment

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Your Asthma

10 Tips For Coping With Asthma

What Is Asthma- Frequently Asked Questions

Patients often ask a number of different questions related to asthma. Maybe these will help you. If not ask your own
question and see it get answered.

What Infant Asthma Symptoms Are Warning Signs?

What is Wheezing?

What Is An Asthma Attack?


American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Consumer Information Sheet. Accessed: January 1, 2008.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Accessed: January 1, 2008.

Asthma Statistics

Expert Panel Report 3 (EPR3): Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma