Asthma is a long-term condition that can cause wheezing, breathlessness, and coughing. It often starts in childhood, but it can happen for the first time at any age. The severity of symptoms varies from person to person, ranging from very mild, occasional breathlessness and wheezing, to very debilitating symptoms. Symptoms may come and go throughout life, but asthma can be well controlled in most people most of the time.
Asthma is caused by inflammation of the airways —in particular, small tubes called bronchi. The bronchi are more sensitive than normal because of this inflammation. When some kind of trigger irritates the lungs, the airways become narrow, the muscles around them tighten and there is an increase in the production of sticky mucus (phlegm). This makes it difficult to breathe and causes wheezing and coughing. It may also make the chest feel tight.
Common Asthma Symptoms
- Coughing:can be dry or mucus-filled, often worse at night or early morning
- Wheezing: whistling or squeaky sound, especially when exhaling
- Chest tightness: feels like something is squeezing or sitting on the chest.
- Shortness of breath:hard to catch breath or breathe deeply enough.
Anyone of any age, family background, race, gender, or general health can develop asthma. Researchers think many genetic and environmental factors play a role, especially during the first years of life when the immune system is developing.
These factors include:
- Family history– If parents or siblings have asthma, increased chance of developing it
- Exposure to secondhand smoke– Smoking, or exposure to secondhand smoke, especially in early childhood or from mothers who smoked while they were pregnant
- Environmental irritants– Exhaust fumes, air pollution, indoor allergens such as dust mites, cockroaches and mold, chemical irritants or industrial dust
- Premature birth or respiratory illnesses that harm the lungs–children born prematurely or who suffered from a respiratory illness early on