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What Is Asthma?

Soccer star David Beckham. Actress Jessica Alba. Singer Billy Joel.

What do these celebrities have in common? They all have asthma – a chronic condition that causes inflammation and narrowing of the bronchial tubes, the passageways that allow air to enter and leave your lungs.

There are two types of asthma:

As a chronic condition, asthma is something you’ll have to manage regularly. But the good news is you don’t have to face it alone. And here’s the great news: Just like David, Jessica and Billy, you don’t have to let asthma hold you back.

With the help of an allergist, many people with asthma manage the condition well and live healthy and productive lives.

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What Are the Signs That I Might Have Asthma?

Do you have a regular cough that you just can’t seem to kick? Do you struggle to catch your breath? Is there a whistling or wheezing sound when you breathe? These can all be signs of asthma. Other common symptoms include chest tightness and shortness of breath. The key with asthma is that symptoms come back over and over again. Your allergist can evaluate whether your symptoms are a sign of asthma.

How Common Is Asthma?

Asthma is very common: Asthma symptoms affect an estimated 26 million Americans, including 20 million adults and 6 million children. That’s approximately 1 in 12 people. Asthma ranks among the most common chronic childhood illnesses, accounting for 13.8 million missed school days a year, as well as more than 14 million lost workdays for adults.

What Causes Asthma?

It’s hard to say for sure what causes asthma, but family genetics are believed to be a key factor. Asthma often runs in families. Environmental factors, such as exposure to secondhand smoke or air pollution, can also play a role.

How Do I Treat Asthma?

Allergists are specially trained to help you take control of your asthma so that you can live the life you want. They will work with you to identify what triggers your asthma and then build a plan to help you avoid and manage those triggers. They may also prescribe medication or, in some cases, allergy immunotherapy.

If you have asthma, you should keep your rescue inhaler with you wherever you are – at work, at school or on vacation. Albuterol is a particularly effective, fast-acting treatment to relax the muscles around your airways so you can breathe easier. If your asthma is severe or uncontrolled, your allergist may speak to you about biologics treatment or a procedure called bronchial thermoplasty.

What Are Common Triggers for Asthma?

A trigger is something that provokes a response from your body. In the case of asthma, your body sees these triggers as a threat and releases chemicals to combat them – and these chemicals, in turn, can cause an asthma attack.

Different things can act as triggers for different people, but common asthma triggers include exercise, illness and allergens such as pollen. Triggers can also come from certain medications, the weather, stress, smoke and even some foods.

What Should I Do if I Suffer an Asthma Attack?

The best way to handle an asthma attack is to be prepared. Your allergist can help you create an asthma action plan, which can include specific steps to prevent and manage an asthma attack.

If an attack does occur, stay calm and use the medications your allergist has prescribed. These are typically administered with an inhaler.

Seek medical treatment if your coughing or shortness of breath persists or seems to get worse.

Can You Cure Asthma?

There is no cure for asthma, but there are effective treatments available. The best way to manage your asthma is to work with an allergist. Studies show that people with asthma who see a specialist such as an allergist reduce their:

  • Symptoms
  • Emergency room visits
  • Hospital stays
  • Sick visits to the doctor
  • Missed days from work or school
  • Health care costs

Don’t let asthma hold you back! Use the Find an Allergist tool and begin to take back control of your life.