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Asthma

Introduction

brother and sister, about age 10,  cheek to cheek and looking up into cameraAsthma is an inflammatory condition of the lungs, characterized by narrowing of the airway passages. This disease is at least partially reversible if treated with appropriate medications.

 

Symptoms

Asthma, which is estimated to afflict over 9 million Americans, has many patterns of presentation and can occur at any age. Commonly experienced symptoms of asthma include:

Since other diseases can cause similar symptoms, it is always important to be examined by a physician.

 

Causes

Asthma may be caused or triggered by allergic and non-allergic factors. Allergic factors or challenges include:

Upon repeated exposure to these substances, the body forms allergic antibodies called IgE, directed toward specific allergens. An important part of evaluating allergic asthma includes skin testing to allergens to determine if any allergic antibodies are responsible for aggravating symptoms of asthma. Skin tests are always interpreted in light of the patient's history, since falsely positive tests occasionally occur.

Non-allergic factors that can trigger asthma include:

Patients may have a combination of allergic and non-allergic asthma. Stress and anxiety can make both forms of this disease worse.

There are some patients who develop allergic asthma after exposure to certain proteins and chemicals in their work environment. Some workers develop asthma in the workplace after exposure to irritating fumes.

 

Treatment

Two principles guide asthma treatment:

  1. Avoidance of precipitating factors (factors that cause asthma to flare up)
  2. Control of the inflammatory processes within the lungs and airways

When possible, factors which cause asthma to flare up should be identified and avoided if at all possible. It is very important that patients with asthma learn to recognize the early warning signs and symptoms of asthma attacks, and take appropriate actions before the disease gets worse. Patients whose symptoms are frequent (more than twice a month) and/or who have evidence of airway obstruction should take anti-inflammatory asthma medications on a regular basis. When a treatment program is recommended, it is very important that the physician's instructions be followed in order to get the most relief and best control of asthma symptoms.

If asthma should worsen in the future for whatever reason, it is very important to call a physician immediately for advice regarding required changes in your treatment. When these flares of asthma are treated early, severe asthma attacks, emergency room visits, and hospitalizations can usually be avoided.

If managed and treated properly, the vast majority of individuals with asthma can lead normal, active, and productive lives.

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Last Reviewed: Jul 03, 2008

Elizabeth D Allen, MD Elizabeth D Allen, MD
Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University

Stuart Green, MD
Assistant Professor of Medicine and Pathobiology
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati

David I Bernstein, MD David I Bernstein, MD
Professor of Medicine
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati

I Leonard Bernstein, MD I Leonard Bernstein, MD
Clinical Professor Emeritus
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati