All About Asthma

in Asthma, Asthma Newly Diagnosed, Basics

All About Asthma-2When a person with asthma is exposed to one of their “triggers” – such as allergens, cigarette smoke, exercise or viral infections, that person’s airways will produce mucus in the airways. Exposure to an allergic trigger, such as cat dander or tree pollen sets off that person’s immune system, causing inflammation and swelling in the airways and nasal passages.

The muscles of the airway may also contract. All of these factors make it difficult to breathe. Let’s look at the basics of asthma as a disease.

The person with asthma may experience a range of symptoms. These include cough, wheeze, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest. In severe asthma attacks, a person might have difficulty talking, have a blue-ish color on the lips or fingernails. Some people experience a pulling in of the muscles between the ribs or above the breast or collar bones while breathing.

Asthma Prevalence

Asthma is a common chronic disease of the airways that’s estimated to affect 260 million people around the world.

In the United States, 25 million people have been diagnosed with asthma. For perspective, that’s almost the population of Australia. In Canada, the disease affects about 3 million Canadians.

What Causes Asthma?

It is not completely understood why some people develop asthma while others don’t. However, your chances of developing the disease appear to hinge on a combination of genetics and the environment.

Key Risk factors:

-Family history. If your parents have asthma, you’re more likely to as well.

-A genetic tendency to be allergic. (This is called atopy.)

-Being exposed to cigarette smoke, either direct or second-hand.

Antibiotics, which are shown to affect protective gut microbes.

-Living or going to school near air pollution from heavy traffic.

-Exposure to dust mites

-Early exposure to cleaning sprays.

-Low-birth weight


-Workplace Exposures*

* Some people develop occupational asthma as adults following prolonged exposures to sensitizing materials in the workplace. (e.g. paint, fumes or dust)

Does Asthma Go Away?

Asthma is a lifelong, chronic condition. There is no cure.

However, asthma can be successfully controlled by avoiding triggers and taking daily controller medications. Once your asthma is under control, it may be possible to reduce the amount of medication you are taking.

In some people, asthma can go into “remission” during the teenage years. However, many of these people develop symptoms again later in life.

Asthma Basics: Active Living

People often wonder how asthma will affect their life and in particular, their ability to exercise and play sports. But experts agree: it shouldn’t at all!

With a combination of avoiding triggers and medication, people with asthma should be able to live active, healthy lives. In fact, it’s important that people with asthma do exercise, as this helps them build up lung capacity. See Exercise and Asthma

Who Can Help?

Get a proper diagnosis from an allergist or pulmonologist. When it comes to disease management, some clinics involve an asthma educator. That’s a health professional (usually a nurse or respiratory therapist) certified to help people with asthma understand their disease and asthma control. As some asthma is difficult to control, it’s important to work alongside a specialist and other health professionals. This will help to optimize the patient’s health and lifestyle.

Related Reading:
Cat Allergy and Asthma: New Treatments in the Works
Pet Allergies: A Gander at Dander

Last updated: June, 2022