What is asthma?
Asthma is a disease of the respiratory system in which the lungs become overly reactive or sensitive to external substances such as dust, pollen or air pollutants. When an asthmatic personís airways come into contact with
these substances, the mucous membranes within the airways swell up and become inflamed. At the same time the muscles around the airways tighten. As a result it becomes more and more difficult for air to enter or leave the lungs and the body becomes deprived of oxygen.
What are the symptoms of asthma?
Shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, tightness in the chest, and difficulty in breathing are all symptoms of asthma. An asthmatic person may feel as if a band is tightening around his or her chest, or as if they are unable to get enough air in no matter how deeply they breathe in and out. During a severe asthmatic attack victims may experience sensations of suffocating, and in extreme cases, if the patient is not treated, they can die.
While colds, coughs, the flu and bronchitis may create similar symptoms for a brief period of time, these symptoms go away after a few days or weeks. If you experience any of these problems for a long period of time or seem to have recurring bouts of respiratory illnesses it is important that you visit a doctor to discuss your symptoms.
Who has asthma?
Asthma strikes men, women, and children of all ages and cultural and economic backgrounds. While hereditary asthma often affects children in families with a history of allergies, adults with no such family history are increasingly developing this illness, often with no warning. Approximately 17 million people in the United States suffer from asthma today. It is estimated that 10 to 15% of all American children suffer from the disease and 1 in 9 adults has asthma. Every year 5,000 people die from asthma. Frighteningly, with increasing air pollution and urbanization, asthma is rapidly on the rise in the U.S. Experts predict that within the next ten years asthma will increase over 50%.
Can asthma be cured?
Unfortunately, no. Currently there is no known cure for asthma. People with asthma, along with their loved ones, must learn to live with this disease for the rest of their lives.
There is, however, much hope today for those with asthma. In contrast to Paulaís childhood thirty years ago when asthma was poorly understood and ineffectively treated, major advances in medical research over the past few decades have already resulted in many excellent medications that can control asthmatic symptoms. With careful management of their environment and a doctorís supervised medication plan, people with asthma can live normal, healthy, active lives--even bicycling around the world!
Last Updated: May 10, 2006