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General Information About Asthma

What is asthma?

Asthma is a respiratory disease of the airways (the tubes that move air in and out of your lungs).  Asthma produces chronic inflammation of the airways with progressive airway remodeling. The cause is unknown. Asthmatic airways react to "triggers" such as smoke, dust, mold, pollen and viral infections, resulting in further airways narrowing and mucous production. Symptoms of asthma include chest tightness/shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing (sometimes a chronic cough is the only symptom).

How common is asthma?

Asthma is a very common disease. In 1998, 17 million people self-reported to have asthma (of these, 5 million were children). This represents an increase in asthma prevalence of over 75% since 1980. Although the prevalence of asthma is similar in white and African-American children, African-American children experience more severe disability and have more frequent hospitalizations.  To see more about the incidence of asthma for various regions, click on this link:

How is asthma diagnosed?

Asthma can be diagnosed by a history, physical examination and lung function tests. Skin tests to identify allergens are sometimes used to aid in diagnosis and management.

How is asthma treated?

There is no cure for asthma, but the symptoms can be controlled. Asthma is classified according to the severity of symptoms (persistent or intermittent) and also its severity (mild to severe). Persistent asthma occurs more than twice a week. Asthma treatment includes environmental control (reducing exposure to asthma triggers) and medication. Medications are quick relief, or "rescue" drugs, intended to prevent bronchospasm during an acute exacerbation, and long-term "control" medications. Rescue drugs open up the airways to improve breathing. Control medications are taken even when no symptoms are present, and are designed to decrease lung inflammation. These include oral leukotriene modifiers, inhaled corticosteroids, or cromolyn (nedocromil).


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