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Asthma

Asthma occurs when the airways in your lungs (bronchial tubes) become inflamed and constricted. The muscles of the bronchial walls tighten, and your airways produce extra mucus that blocks your airways. Signs and symptoms of asthma range from minor wheezing to life-threatening asthma attacks.

Asthma can't be cured, but its symptoms can be controlled. Management includes avoiding asthma triggers and tracking your symptoms. You may need to regularly take long-term control medications to prevent flare-ups and short-term "rescue" medications to control symptoms once they start. Asthma that isn't under control can cause missed school and work or reduced productivity due to symptoms. Because in most people asthma changes over time, you'll need to work closely with your doctor to track your signs and symptoms and adjust your treatment as needed.

You may wonder what allergies and asthma have in common besides a maddening ability to make you miserable. A lot, as it turns out. Allergies and asthma often occur together. In fact, allergic asthma (allergy-induced asthma) is the most common type of asthma in the United States.

If you have both allergies and asthma, the same substances that trigger your allergy symptoms can also inflame your airways, leading to asthma symptoms such as shortness of breath, wheezing and chest tightness.

For many people with asthma, their asthma symptoms are triggered by an allergy to airborne substances such as pollen, dust mites or pet dander. In some people, skin or food allergies can cause asthma symptoms.

Asthma signs and symptoms range from minor to severe, and vary from person to person. You may have mild symptoms such as infrequent wheezing, with occasional asthma attacks. Between episodes you may feel normal and have no trouble breathing. Or, you may have signs and symptoms such as coughing and wheezing all the time or have symptoms primarily at night or only during exercise.

Asthma signs and symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Problems sleeping caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
  • An audible whistling or wheezing sound when exhaling
  • Episodes of coughing or wheezing that are worsened by a respiratory virus such as a cold or flu

Signs that your asthma is probably getting worse include:

  • An increase in the severity and frequency of asthma signs and symptoms
  • A fall in peak flow rates as measured by a peak flow meter, a simple device used to check how well your lungs. working
  • An increased need to use bronchodilators – medications that open the airways by relaxing the surrounding muscles