What is Asthma?

Explanation of Asthma Basics for the New Asthma Sufferer


Asthma is a chronic lung disease that kills nearly 6,000 people each year, according to the National Institutes of Health. It is neither contagious nor psychological, and affects approximately 10 million Americans, 3 million of them under the age of 18. Asthma occurs when the airflow moving in and out of the lungs are blocked by muscle squeezing, swelling, and excess mucus. Patients with asthma respond to factors in the environment called triggers, including dust, dust mites, mold or pet dander. Asthma flare-ups can also be provoked by the common cold, perfumes and other chemical fumes, and cigarette smoke. In response to a trigger, an asthmatic’s airways become narrowed and inflamed, causing blocking of the airways that result in wheezing and/or coughing symptoms. Air becomes trapped in the air sacs, not allowing for the proper exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. This trapped air leads to a low oxygen level in the body, thus, triggering an asthma attack. During an asthma attack, the mucus-producing cells within the airway increase their output, causing excess mucus that blocks the airway. Parts of the airway become entirely blocked with the combination of airway narrowing, mucus plugging, and airway inflammation. These attacks vary in length. A single episode can be over in minutes, or continue for hours or even days. In between asthma episodes the patient may be totally symptom free. Other patients may have slight symptoms such as chest tightness or a hacking cough.

Symptoms to watch for

Acute symptoms require prompt action. Wheezing and coughing are the first two main indicators of asthma. Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound that occurs mainly when exhaling, and is the result of air moving through a narrow airway, causing airflow turbulence and noisy respiration. Coughing can be in the form of a long-term, persistent cough lasting for days or weeks. Chronic coughing is worse during the evening and nighttime hours. Other symptoms of asthma include tightness in the chest, shortness of breath and decreased endurance, especially during physical activity.

Asthmatic Triggers

Triggers are substances in our environment that essentially ‘wake-up’ otherwise dormant symptoms that cause inflammation and tightening of the airways, prompting an asthma attack. The following is a list of the most common and dangerous forms of environmental triggers.

Dust Mites

We all love the warm weather, but unfortunately for asthma patients, it is the coming of a new season that gives them reason to worry. Warm weather brings with it high levels of humidity causing an increase in dust mites, microscopic bugs that live in bedding, carpets, upholstery and mold. Several thousand bugs can be found in a pinch of dust. To limit the amount of dust mites in your home, protect your bedding with dust mite covers. Encase mattresses and pillows in airtight covers and wash all bedding in water at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit to kill the dust mites. Remove carpets, and dust as often as possible. This decreases the amount of dust mites and their feces that contribute to airborne particles that trigger asthma episodes. Use a damp mop or cloth when cleaning to avoid redistributing the dust.

Invest in a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) air filter rather than the traditional vacuums that redistribute dust from room to room; you’ll be glad that you did! Clothes not worn often should go into a plastic garment bag. Dust mites love high humidity, so keep the humidity in your home at a low level by using a dehumidifier.

Pollens and Molds

Avoid the outdoors during dawn, midday, and late afternoon, when the pollen count is usually at it’s highest.

Animal Dander

(Shed flakes from the skin, hair, or feathers of all warm-blooded animals. Domestic ones include cats, dogs, horses, birds, and rodents).

There is no such thing as an allergy-free pet. Pets carry allergens through urine, saliva, and dander. As much as you love your cat or dog, the allergens come with the package. You may need to make some adjustments with your pets to avoid coming in touch with these trouble-making allergens. The first thing to do is to keep your pet outdoors when possible and out of your bedroom at all times. Wash your pet weekly and brush their hair outdoors.

Indoor Molds

Dust mites thrive in moldy environments, so keep your bathrooms, kitchens, and basements well aired. For damp basements, use a dehumidifier to regulate the dampness by setting it between 25 and 50 percent. Clean these areas often, and keep the bathroom as dry as possible, even if that means wiping it down after a bath or shower.

Tobacco Smoke

The carcinogens from tobacco smoke are one of the highest triggering substances an asthmatic can encounter. The best defense against tobacco smoke is to avoid entirely.

Strong Odors and Sprays

Sprays and strong fumes can irritate asthma, making it hard to breathe. Leave your home while it’s being painted, and allow it enough time to dry. Room deodorizers, perfumes, powders and sprays are substances that cause more harm than good to an asthmatic. Cleaning your home is essential, so be sure to use non-perfumed cleaning products.

Colds and Infections

You know how quickly the common cold can be passed-on from one person to another. It’s as simple as shaking somebody’s hand, or touching the same doorknob. For those without asthma, a simple over-the-counter medication will do, but for asthmatics, it gets more complicated than that. An innocent cold can exacerbate severe asthma symptoms Defend yourself against ‘gateway’ illnesses by avoiding people with the cold or flu. Talk to your doctor about flu shots and what over-the-counter medications are safe for you.

Strenuous Exercising

The rules have changed. It is not recommended that those with asthma have ‘sit this one out’ any longer. It is recommended, however, that they limit their activities to those which are conducive to their bodies limits. The new rule – know your limits, and select an exercise where you can enjoy the benefits without having to over-do-it. Asthma safe exercises include walking, bicycling, swimming, and roller blading.

Cold Weather

Cold and wind are culprits to comfortable breathing, and should be dealt with properly. Cover your nose and mouth on cold, windy days and dress warmly to avoid getting sick.


Alcohol taken with at the same time as the food allergy may increase the affects of the allergy. Wine is the biggest alcohol to avoid when suffering from asthma

Asthma Management Plan

The fact that asthma kills so many Americans each year is particularly troublesome because it is a disease that can remain under control if treated properly. In the past 20 years, scientists have gained a better understanding of what causes asthma, and how to protect yourself against its most deadly triggers. New drugs have also been developed to replace standard medications, and there is greater emphasis on managing asthma as a partnership between you and your doctor. Working closely to determine a management plan can help reduce the risk of severe attacks and increase your quality of life. By identifying and eliminating triggers, routinely monitoring your breathing, and properly using medications, you can help control symptoms and maintain your usual lifestyle.

  • Take your medicine regularly
  • Take the right amount of medicine
  • Keep your inhaler with you at all times, and don’t be afraid to use in public whenever the situation calls for it.
  • Tell your family, friends, work and school associates how they can help you during an attack.
  • Tell them where your inhaler and medication are kept, and how best to administer them to you.
  • Keep your doctors phone number handy at all times.