Asthma is a disease that affects the airways in your lungs. If you have asthma, the lining in your airways are swollen and inflamed all the time. This makes your airways more likely to be bothered by allergens or other things such as smoke, stress, exercise or cold air. These triggers don’t bother most people, but they can cause symptoms if you have asthma.
Some common asthma symptoms are:
- Coughing, especially at night, with exercise or when laughing
- Trouble breathing
- Tight feeling in the chest
- Wheezing – a squeaky or whistling sound
Many people who have asthma also have allergies. In most cases, allergies trigger asthma symptoms or an asthma attack. This “allergic asthma” is the most common form of asthma. For this reason, allergy skin testing is also performed to help determine allergy triggers.
When you have asthma, airway inflammation and swelling cause the airways to be overly sensitive or “twitchy.” This twitchiness causes the narrowing and blockage of the airways. As the inflammation increases, the airways become more sensitive and overactive.
During an asthma episode, the mucus-producing cells within the airway increase their output and mucus plugs the airway. The combination of airway narrowing, mucus plugging, and airway inflammation can block portions of the airway entirely. Air becomes trapped in the alveoli (air sacs at the end of the bronchioles). This trapped air cannot provide for the proper exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Trapped air leads to hypoxia (low oxygen content) in the body.
Air trying to pass through the narrowed tubes filled with mucus may produce wheezing. Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound, often associated with asthma. Other symptoms of asthma include a persistent cough, chest tightness, shortness of breath, or decreased endurance. Coughing is usually the most common and may be the only symptom.
Severe effects of asthma may include loss of elasticity of the lungs due to air trapping and low oxygen; this is called “airway remodeling”. This could potentially inhibit growth and development in children due to long-term trapped air and low oxygen content in the body. Asthma has also been known to cause fatigue and irritability in people of all ages.
If you think you have asthma, you need to be evaluated by a board-certified allergist. Family Allergy & Asthma offers a variety of treatment options for asthmatic patients.