What Causes Asthma?

by Katelyn Schwanke
(last updated September 5, 2008)

Asthma is becoming increasingly prevalent in the United States. The rate has increased 75% for children alone in the last 30 years. Most diagnoses are made during childhood and research follows that trend to explain the increase in asthmatics nationwide. Despite the high pre-adolescent population, adults are susceptible as well. Adult asthma is often caused by environmental irritants (gas, chemicals, pollen or pet dander in the workplace or home) but pediatric asthma is found to be related to personal immunity. Mothers who breast feed and limit the number of heavily chemicals and sanitizers in their home help protect their children from asthma by providing immunity and the production of antibodies (the body's response to disease or illness). So what exactly is asthma?

Asthma is a respiratory disorder that causes tiny tubes in the lungs, called bronchioles, to become inflamed and covered in thick mucus as a result of the patient's exposure to some type of allergen or irritant (pet dander, grass, stress, exercise, gases or chemicals). As the bronchioles continue to produce mucus and become increasingly inflamed it makes it difficult for the patient to breath properly. During an asthma attack, an asthmatic may decrease their intake of oxygen by 75 percent. Symptoms include dizziness, coughing, wheezing, pale skin color, and "drawing in" (pulling the chest inward during inhalation in an attempt to breathe more effectively).

A properly diagnosed asthmatic should have access to a prescription bronchodilator. A bronchodilator is a medication that works to quickly reduce the inflammation of the bronchioles so that air can pass through properly. The bronchodilator specifically acts to dilate (widen the width) the bronchioles, acting similarly to a blood pressure medication. An asthmatic's doctor may also prescribe antihistamines. An antihistamine works to prevent the body from producing too many types of histamine that can cause an asthma attack.

Depending on what type of asthma the doctor diagnoses, an asthmatic may be advised to avoid strenuous exercise, reduce stress, avoid pets or decrease exposure to chemicals or gases in the workplace. Participating in moderate physical activity and changes in diet (avoiding shellfish, processed potatoes and alcohol) may also be necessary to control symptoms.

Although asthma cannot be cured, most asthmatics can, if properly treated, live with very few symptoms and extremely infrequent attacks. Speak to your doctor about what well controlled asthma should look like in your situation. Controlled asthmatics may have an attack now and again but will generally be able to carry on with exercise and other regular activities.

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