Overview

What Is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic illness in which the airways becomes obstructed, making it difficult to breathe. There are three main types of obstruction associated with asthma:

  • Swelling: The airway lining becomes inflamed and swells, causing the airway to narrow.
  • Bronchospasm: The smooth muscles around the airway tighten in response to triggers such as allergens, smoke, cold air or exercise.
  • Mucus: During an asthma attack, the body produces additional mucus, creating mucus plugs that can’t be cleared by coughing.

Asthma can cause wheezing, shortness of breath and coughing in response to a variety of triggers. Symptoms may vary from mild to debilitating, but proper management can help keep symptoms under control.

Asthma can affect both children and adults. The number of Americans with asthma is growing, and it’s estimated that one in 12 people—about 25 million Americans—suffers from asthma. Those most likely to suffer from asthma are:

  • Children 5 to 17 years of age
  • Residents of cities with poor air quality
  • Smokers or those exposed to second-hand smoke
  • People with allergies
  • People with a family history of allergies and asthma
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