Asthma: Causes, Symptoms and Risk Factors

Asthma is a long-term inflammatory disease of the airways of the lungs. The problem in the bronchial tubes that carry air into your lungs can make it hard for you to breathe. These airways get so narrow that air can not move freely causing

Updated: November 17, 2017

Asthma is a long-term inflammatory disease of the airways of the lungs. The problem in the bronchial tubes that carry air into your lungs can make it hard for you to breathe. These airways get so narrow that air can not move freely causing serious wheezing and breathlessness, known as asthma attacks. There is no cure, but most people can control their symptoms.
Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB), or exercise-induced asthma (EIA) can be developed in healthy people when exercising. Your physician can develop a management plan to keep your symptoms under control before, during and after physical activity.
People with a family history of allergies or asthma are more prone to developing asthma. Many people with asthma also have allergies which is called allergic asthma.
By inhaling fumes, gases, dust or other potentially harmful substances while on the job can induce occupational asthma. The majority of children can develop childhood asthma before the age of five.

Causes of Asthma:

Asthma is caused by a combination of environmental and genetic interactions. Onset before age 12 is more likely due to genetic influence, while onset after 12 is more likely due to environmental influence.
Exposure to various irritants and substances that trigger allergies (allergens) can trigger signs and symptoms of asthma. Asthma triggers are different from person to person and can include:

  • Air pollutants and irritants, such as smoke
  • Cold air
  • Respiratory infections, such as the common cold
  • Physical activity
  • Airborne substances, such as pollen, dust mites, mold spores, pet dander or particles of cockroach waste
  • Sulfites and preservatives added to some types of foods and beverages, including shrimp, dried fruit, processed potatoes, beer and wine
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition in which stomach acids back up into your throat
  • Certain medications, including beta blockers, aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen (Aleve)
  • Strong emotions and stress

Symptoms of Asthma:

Asthma symptoms vary from person to person. The most common symptom is wheezing. This is a scratchy or whistling sound when you breathe. Other symptoms include:

  •    Shortness of breath
  •    Chest tightness or pain
  •    Chronic coughing
  •    Trouble sleeping due to coughing or wheezing

Children with asthma may show the same symptoms as adults with asthma. Symptoms in children include:

  • Coughing that is constant or that is made worse by viral infections, happens while your child is asleep, or is triggered by exercise and cold air
  • Shortness of breath or rapid breathing, which may be associated with exercise
  • Wheezing or whistling sound when your child exhales
  • Fatigue
  • Chest tightness
  • Problems sleeping due to coughing or difficulty breathing
  • Problems feeding or grunting during feeding (infants)

Patterns in asthma symptoms can help make a diagnosis of the type. It is important to pay attention when symptoms occur. These can occur

  •    At night or early morning
  •    During or after exercise
  •    During certain seasons
  •    After laughing or crying
  •    When exposed to common asthma triggers

Risk Factors of Asthma:

A number of factors are thought to increase your chances of developing asthma. These include:

  • Having a blood relative such as a parent or sibling with asthma
  • Having another allergic condition, such as atopic dermatitis or allergic rhinitis
  • Exposure to exhaust fumes or other types of pollution
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Exposure to occupational triggers, such as chemicals used in farming, hairdressing and manufacturing
  • Being overweight
  • Being a smoker



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