Updated May 2014
What is known about asthma?
Asthma is a common and potentially serious chronic disease that imposes a substantial burden on patients, their families and the community. It causes respiratory symptoms, limitation of activity, and flare-ups (attacks) that sometimes require urgent health care and may be fatal.
Fortunately… asthma can be effectively treated and most patients can achieve good control of their asthma. When asthma is under good control, patients can:
What is asthma? Asthma causes symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and cough that vary over time in their occurrence, frequency and intensity.
These symptoms are associated with variable expiratory airflow, i.e., difficulty breathing air out of the lungs due to bronchoconstriction (airway narrowing), airway wall thickening, and increased mucus. Some variation in airflow can also occur in people without asthma, but it is greater in asthma.
Factors that may trigger or worsen asthma symptoms include viral infections, domestic or occupational allergens (e.g., house dust mite, pollens, cockroach), tobacco smoke, exercise and stress. These responses are more likely when asthma is uncontrolled. Some drugs can induce or trigger asthma, e.g., beta-blockers, and (in some patients) aspirin or other NSAIDs.
Asthma flare-ups (also called exacerbations or attacks) may occur, even in people taking asthma treatment. When asthma is uncontrolled, or in some high-risk patients, these episodes are more frequent and more severe, and may be fatal.
A stepwise approach to treatment takes into account the effectiveness of available medications, their safety, and their cost to the payer or patient.
Regular controller treatment, particularly with inhaled corticosteroid (ICS)-containing medications, markedly reduces the frequency and severity of asthma symptoms and the risk of having a flare-up.
Asthma is a common condition, affecting all levels of society. Olympic athletes, famous leaders and celebrities, and ordinary people live successful and active lives with asthma.