Wheezing. Gasping. Coughing. Chest pain. While most people know how to identify an asthma attack, other aspects of the condition are less well-known. Even medical experts aren’t exactly sure what causes asthma or how to cure it, despite it being one of the most common conditions in the world!
Of course, asthma research is ongoing and modern treatments are highly effective at managing symptoms. For patients, being proactive is one of the best ways to control asthma, and that includes understanding some key facts about this chronic condition.
1. Asthma is incredibly common.
More than 25 million Americans have asthma, including 8 percent of adults and 7 percent of children. It is more common in adult women than adult men, but it occurs more often in boys than girls.
2. Asthma causes difficulty breathing.
Asthma causes the airways to swell and fill with mucus, making it harder for air to travel through the respiratory system. Symptoms can include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and trouble breathing. Some people say having asthma feels like breathing through a straw or with an elephant on their chest.
3. All asthma is serious.
Any asthma attack can be life-threatening, even in patients diagnosed with a mild case of the condition. Asthma kills 10 people each day in the United States, and many of those deaths are preventable with proper treatment.
4. Asthma is not a “childhood disease”.
Asthma is most commonly diagnosed in children, but it can occur at any age. Children will also not “outgrow” asthma – it’s a lifelong condition that may go into remission but typically returns later in adulthood.
5. Allergy triggers can increase symptoms.
Asthma symptoms increase when certain triggers cause increased inflammation in the airways. Common asthma triggers include allergens (like dust or pollen), cigarette smoke, cold air, respiratory infections, and exercise.
6. Asthma can be managed.
There is no cure for asthma, but most cases can be well-controlled with proper treatment. Medications include quick-relief medications (like rescue inhalers) and long-term controllers (like inhaled corticosteroids) to manage symptoms and reduce long-term inflammation. Patients are also encouraged to avoid their allergy triggers whenever possible.
7. Asthma medication is not harmful or addictive.
Asthma medications undergo rigorous testing to ensure they are safe and effective. The corticosteroids used to treat asthma are not the same as anabolic steroids used by athletes and will not cause growth problems in children.
8. Asthma is closely linked to allergies.
In fact, allergy-induced asthma is the most common form of asthma in the United States, affecting 60 percent of asthma patients. Many of the substances that trigger allergies – such as pollen, pet dander, mold, or dust mites – also cause an increase in asthma symptoms. By treating underlying allergies with medications or immunotherapy, many patients can manage both conditions.