What is Asthma?

More than 300 million people in the world have asthma – a chronic respiratory disease. It is one of the most common long-term diseases in children, although adults have it as well.

Asthma causes wheezing; breathlessness; chest tightness and coughing at night or early in the morning. If you have asthma, it is always there but attacks generally only happen when something bothers your lungs.

What’s An Asthma Attack?

An asthma attack usually starts when your airways over-react to a trigger, that is, something that makes your symptoms worse. This over-reaction results in airways swelling and narrowing, and producing more mucus. Breathing becomes difficult with shortness of breath or feeling like you can’t catch your breath, coughing, chest tightness as if the lungs are being squeezed as well as wheezing – noisy breaths that sound like a whistling or rattling sound in the chest, are common symptoms.

An asthma attack is traumatic for all involved. The person with asthma often feels out of control, fearful of participating in physical activity and is often embarrassed about taking medications such as inhalers in front of others. In addition, the sensation of chest tightness and struggling for breath that occurs during an attack is frightening. The story that is seldom told is that of the family members and caregivers who experience helplessness and loss of peace of mind while they wait, on edge, for the next attack, or sit helplessly watching their loved one struggle for breath during an attack.

How Can You Tell If You Have Asthma?

Diagnosing asthma, especially in children younger than 5, is often difficult. Doctors will check how well your lungs work to determine if you have asthma. Sometimes they will test for allergies which can trigger asthma. Other things a doctor will generally ask you:

  • Do you cough a lot, especially at night?
  • Are your breathing difficulties worse after physical activity, or at certain times of the year?
  • Do you have chest tightness, wheezing, and/or colds lasting more than 10 days?
  • Does anyone in your family have allergies or asthma?

Often, the doctor will also check how well your lungs are working using a device called a spirometer.