Asthma is a chronic (long-term) lung disease. It affects your airways, the tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs. When you have asthma, your airways can become inflamed and narrowed. This can cause wheezing, coughing, and tightness in your chest. When these symptoms get worse than usual, it is called an asthma attack or flare-up.
What causes asthma?
The exact cause of asthma is unknown. Genetics and your environment likely play a role in who gets asthma. An asthma attack can happen when you are exposed to an asthma trigger. An asthma trigger is something that can set off or worsen your asthma symptoms. Allergic asthma is caused by allergens. Allergens are substances that cause an allergic reaction. They can include:
- Dust mites
- Pollen from grass, trees, and weeds
- Waste from pests such as cockroaches and mice
Nonallergic asthma is caused by triggers that are not allergens, such as:
- Breathing in cold air
- Certain medicines
- Household chemicals
- Infections such as colds and the flu
- Outdoor air pollution
- Tobacco smoke
Occupational asthma is caused by breathing in chemicals or industrial dusts at work. Exercise-induced asthma happens during physical exercise, especially when the air is dry. Asthma triggers may be different for each person and can change over time.
Treatments for Asthma
Treating asthma includes ways to manage your asthma symptoms and prevent asthma attacks. Treatment includes some or all of the following:
- Strategies to avoid triggers. For example, if tobacco smoke is a trigger for you, you should not smoke or allow other people to smoke in your home or car.
- Short-term relief medicines, also called quick-relief medicines. They help prevent symptoms or relieve symptoms during an asthma attack. They include an inhaler to carry with you all the time. It may also include other types of medicines which work quickly to help open your airways.
- Control medicines. You take them every day to help prevent symptoms. They work by reducing airway inflammation and preventing narrowing of the airways.
If you have a severe attack and the short-term relief medicines do not work, you will need emergency care.