Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that affects about 25 million Americans—7 million of them are children, which is why we are focusing on asthma here. Most of the other CRDs (Chronic Respiratory Diseases) affect older individuals but asthma in young people is quite common.

Asthma is caused when your air passages become inflamed causing them to temporarily narrow, constricting the flow of oxygen to your body. This means you can’t get enough air and you end up wheezing, coughing, being short of breath and feeling like your chest is super tight. In a severe attack, people can lose the ability to talk and function. 

Notice that the narrowing of the passageways is temporary… this is one of the defining characteristics  of asthma. Other CRDs do not have symptoms that are temporary in nature, they are chronic. However, despite the fact that asthma SYMPTOMS are temporary, the disease is not. Asthma is a disease that has to be managed throughout one’s life, as there is no cure. Luckily, some people who have asthma as a child grow out of it when they are older (as their lungs get bigger and their airways expand). Also, for many, many people asthma can be easily managed with medications, avoiding irritants and adopting a healthy lifestyle.

People with asthma tend to be sensitive to things in the environment that can trigger an asthma attack. For instance, colds and the flu can cause asthma symptoms to occur. Pollen in the air or pet dander or even dust mites can also cause symptoms. Smoking of course makes asthma symptoms worse as does any other environmental toxin. 

Of note, exercise can cause an asthma attack. As such, people who have asthma often carry a “rescue inhaler” in their exercise bag to use when they feel an attack coming on or preventatively, depending on their doctor’s recommendation. The medications that help to manage asthma must be prescribed by a doctor.

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