Illnesses & Symptoms
What is Asthma? Asthma is a lung disease that involves the airways (breathing tubes) that allow the air to go in and out of the lungs. When airways are open, they allow air to easily move in and out. As the airways narrow and become inflamed, we cough, breathe faster and use other muscles between and above ribs to help our diaphragm pull air in (called retractions).
Asthma is an inherited disease because it runs in families. It is a common disease that affects 1 out of every 10 people. There is no "cure" for asthma. It may be lifelong, but some people may go for years without symptoms. It is important to understand and avoid your triggers. Triggers are things that are irritating to the lungs and cause asthma symptoms.
Many parents question when to call it asthma, versus other causes of wheezing. Other causes of wheezing include gastroesophageal reflux, vocal cord dysplasia, and bronchiolitis. Recurrence of wheezing with colds or allergies is often asthma. Association with heartburn, dental decay, or poor weight gain can signify acid reflux disease. Bronchiolitis is wheezing in infants triggered by a virus. It often does not respond to the same medications as asthma, but it is difficult to tell if it is simply the first asthma attack. Vocal cord dysplasia involves the vocal cords closing inappropriately during breathing, leading to a wheeze. A careful history and exam, and often time to evaluate progression of symptoms, help to discover the true diagnosis. It matters more that children are appropriately treated than what we call it.
Asthma is divided into four categories:
- Mild intermittent - symptoms less than or equal to 2 days/week or nighttime cough less than twice/month
- Mild persistent - symptoms more than twice/week but not every day or more than twice/month nighttime cough
- Moderate persistent - daily symptoms or cough more than one night/week
- Severe persistent - continual daytime symptoms and frequent nighttime symptoms
Common asthma triggers
- Allergies (pollen, mold, animal dander, etc.)
- Environmental products (cleaning solutions, deodorants, perfumes, etc.)
- Air pollution (ozone, smog, gasoline fumes, etc.)
- Weather (cold air, temperature change, etc.)
- Cold drinks
- Infections (colds, viral illnesses)
- Nighttime (we make more inflammation cells at night!)
- Smoke (including smoke dust on furniture, clothing, hair, and carpet)
Learn more about treatment for an asthma attack