Asthma is a lung condition that affects the airways (bronchial tubes) of your lungs, causing the tissues lining the airways to swell and become narrow. This makes it difficult to breathe. The symptoms associated with asthma (coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath) are the result of this narrowing of the airways. The major factors contributing to asthma are inflammation of the airway lining, tightening of the muscles that wrap around the airways (bronchoconstriction), or both.
Inflammation of the airways may also be accompanied by an increase in mucous production, which also worsens the blockage of the airways. Inflammation makes the airways highly sensitive to irritants in the air such as air pollution, cigarette smoke, or animal dander.
When the highly sensitive airways become too narrow, air cannot flow easily in and out of the lungs, making breathing difficult. This leads to typical asthma symptoms, such as wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, and chest tightness. When these symptoms become more common, it is known as an asthma attack or asthma exacerbation.
Asthma is a variable disease, which means symptoms can flare up from time to time. This means you might go for weeks or even months without experiencing any symptoms.
The best way to free yourself from asthma symptoms is to keep your asthma well controlled. Control means that your airways are not as sensitive to the allergens or irritants that can trigger an asthma attack. When your asthma is well controlled, you can lead a full, active, and healthy life with few, if any, symptoms and no days lost from work or school.
To get your asthma under control, you need the right tools. One of these essential tools is an asthma action plan. If you don't already have one, ask your doctor. It should include: how to recognize when your asthma is getting better or worse, how much you can change the amount of medication you take, and when you should adjust the amount of medication you take. Having an asthma action plan can help you be free from asthma symptoms.
Another important step in controlling your asthma is to learn about your condition. Be sure you understand how asthma affects your body, what triggers your asthma, how to tell if your asthma is getting worse, and how to use your asthma medication. If you have any questions about your asthma, speak to your doctor.
Asthma symptoms can range in severity from mild to very severe. Symptoms can also fluctuate in frequency, vary from person to person, and change from one attack to another. Symptoms may also occur more frequently at night or in the early morning.
Common symptoms of asthma include:
- chest pain
- chest tightness
- difficulty breathing
- shortness of breath
If you're not sure if your asthma is under control, take the Asthma Control Challenge.