Asthma, Explained in Under 2 Minutes

You might not take breathing for granted if you have this respiratory condition.

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Asthma is an incredibly common disease in the United States, affecting over 25 million Americans, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. It’s the most common chronic illness among children, affecting 8.4 percent of U.S. children. Unfortunately, rates of asthma have been on the rise for years—potentially due to air quality changes.

For people without asthma, it’s easy to take breathing for granted. It’s something your body just does intuitively. But if you live with asthma, breathing might be more of a chore.

The asthma action takes place in the bronchial tubes—which most people just call “the airways.” They are two branches that connect the windpipe (or trachea) to each of the lungs. Bronchial tubes in someone with asthma are inflamed and swollen, making them constricted and overly sensitive to asthma triggers.

Asthma triggers may vary from person to person, but common triggers include:

  • Exercise

  • Extreme temperatures

  • Pet dander

  • Strong fragrances

  • Pollen

  • Pollutants

  • And illness.

When someone with asthma comes in contact with an asthma trigger, their bronchial tubes may swell up even more and produce mucus (like your sinuses during the flu). The combination of extremely swollen airways and extra mucus really stifle breathing, causing an “asthma attack.”

Asthma Treatment

The most common treatment for asthma includes inhalers, which doctors call “bronchodilators.” There are two types of inhalers: Rescue inhalers act fast to relax muscles during an asthma attack, and long-acting inhalers act slow to loosen up airway muscles all day.

Additionally, lifestyle modifications to manage asthma are important. This includes identifying asthma triggers and reducing exposure to triggers. For example, avoid scented soaps, detergents, and cleaning products in your home to reduce your exposure to strong fragrances.

Untreated, asthma may scar the lungs, so it’s not a good idea to just “suffer through” asthma. Talk with a doctor to learn about your asthma treatment options.