Asthma is a chronic illness that affects the respiratory system by constricting the airways. Approximately 25 million Americans struggle with either acute or chronic forms of this condition. Asthma impacts nearly 1 in 13 Americans, or about 8% of adults and 7% of children.
Asthma is the inflammation and swelling of the lining of the lungs or bronchial tubes. Bronchial tubes connect to the windpipe (bronchi), and inflammation can cause these air passages to become small. This decreases the ability for air to pass through them.
Symptoms occur when the bronchi and bronchial tubes become inflamed, causing chronic issues such as wheezing, breathlessness, and coughing. In some people, severe symptoms can cause life-threatening problems.
Pathophysiology of Asthma and Triggers
Airflow obstruction is the primary characteristic of this disease. Inflammation and fluid build-up leads to narrowing the airway, reducing how much air can flow freely to and from the lungs. As this inflammatory process progresses, bronchioles become irritated and inflamed, resulting in further obstruction and air trapping. Severe symptoms can lead to a dangerous asthma attack.
An asthma exacerbation occurs due to an overreaction of the immune system to various triggers. This inflammatory response affects many body systems. It leads to changes in blood vessels and muscle spasms of smooth muscles, both of which are present in the bronchi walls.
Some of the most common triggers of attacks are:
- Irritants in the environment (tobacco smoke, cigarette smoke, dust mites, cold air)
- Bacterial and viral infections
- Physical stress such as exercise
- Air pollutants including ozone, sulfur dioxide, and nitric oxide; chemicals found in household cleaning products
- Dry air and cold temperatures
- Pollen season during spring, fall, and summer
Symptoms often worsen at specific times of the year. People who have asthma as a child may continue to be affected by seasonal allergies or allergy induced asthma as adults. Some even experience adult onset asthma or occupational asthma later in life.
In addition to those above, most people with this disease have additional personal triggers which are often challenging to identify. Lifestyle plays a vital role in controlling attacks. Understanding what triggers your condition can help you plan a management strategy that can reduce the number of attacks and reduce your symptoms.