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Asthma

What Is Asthma?

Asthma is a long-term disease of the lungs. It causes your airways to get inflamed and narrow, and it makes it hard to breathe. Severe asthma can cause trouble talking or being active. You might hear your doctor call it a chronic respiratory disease. Some people refer to asthma as "bronchial asthma."

Asthma is a serious disease that affects about 25 million Americans and causes nearly 1.6 million emergency room visits every year. With treatment, you can live well. Without it, you might have to go to the ER often or stay at the hospital, which can affect your daily life.

What Does Asthma Feel Like?

Asthma is marked by inflammation of the bronchial tubes, with extra sticky secretions inside the tubes. People with asthma have symptoms when the airways tighten, inflame, or fill with mucus.

There are three major signs of asthma:

  • Airway blockage. When you breathe as usual, the bands of muscle around your airways are relaxed, and air moves freely. But when you have asthma, the muscles tighten. It’s harder for air to pass through.
  • Inflammation. Asthma causes red, swollen bronchial tubes in your lungs. This inflammation can damage your lungs. Treating this is key to managing asthma in the long run.
  • Airway irritability. People with asthma have sensitive airways that tend to overreact and narrow when they come into contact with even slight triggers.

These problems may cause symptoms such as:

  • Coughing, especially at night or in the morning
  • Wheezing, a whistling sound when you breathe
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness, pain, or pressure in your chest
  • Trouble sleeping because of breathing problems

Not every person with asthma has the same symptoms in the same way. You may not have all of these symptoms, or you may have different symptoms at different times. Your symptoms may also vary from one asthma attack to the next, being mild during one and severe during another.

Some people with asthma may go for long periods without having any symptoms. Others might have problems every day. In addition, some people may have asthma only during exercise or with viral infections like colds.

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