Asthma is chronic inflammation of the lungs that causes the airways to narrow. During an asthma attack the bronchial muscles constrict and the airway becomes swollen. The result of an asthma attack can be death, but usually the inflammation and swelling are reversible with proper treatment.
There are two types of asthma, extrinsic which means allergenic and intrinsic, which means non-allergenic. Extrinsic asthma develops in childhood and children who develop this often (about 80%) also have allergies. There is usually a family history of asthma when it comes to extrinsic asthma and some children grow out of it. Intrinsic asthma usually develops after the age of 30 and usually develops following a respiratory illness.
People who suffer from asthma and allergies have airways that are chronically inflamed and the inflamed airways are much more sensitive irritants and allergens. The airways become hyperactive and are always in a state of increased sensitivity. Some scientists suggest that all people have airways that are in some state of bronchial hyperactivity, but that people who suffer from asthma and allergies experience this to a higher degree.
People who suffer from asthma do so to different degrees. Some asthmatics respond to environmental triggers readily, but others may have bronchial inflammation without showing any obvious symptoms of the inflammation.
Symptoms of asthma typically include shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing. The shortness of breath is particularly noticeable at night or during physical activity such as exercising.
The wheezing symptom that coincides with asthma is a whistling sound that occurs when the asthmatic person breathes out. The coughing is very typical in cold weather or after exercise. The coughing is also noticeable at night or early in the morning.
Tightness of the chest is also a symptom on asthma. The symptom of chest tightness can be in conjunction with the other symptoms or could exist on its own as well.
There are several causes of asthma. The causes include genetic propensity for asthma, environmental factors and gene-environment factors.
The genetics of an asthmatic are important. Family history is important when dealing with most medical issues and asthma is no different. There are currently over 100 genes, which are associated with asthma. Most genes identified by scientists as having some association with asthma are usually immune system genes or inflammation modifier. Genetics do play a role in asthma, so identifying the family history of asthma is important.
Environmental risk factors usually involve children and development of morbidities at a young age. Tobacco smoke and poor air quality seem to be causes of asthma, but more studies are underway to determine the link. Some scientists also believe that cesarean sections also increase the risk of children developing asthma.