Asthma: Understanding, Types, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment


According to the World Health of Organization asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It can significantly impact a person’s daily life but with proper understanding and management individuals with asthma can lead healthy, active lives. So in this article, we’ll explore the causes, symptoms, and strategies for effectively managing asthma. Asthma can’t be cured but its symptoms can be controlled. Because asthma often changes over time it’s important that you work with your doctor to track your signs and symptoms and adjust your treatment as needed.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic condition that affects the airways, causing inflammation and narrowing in the lungs, which makes it harder to breathe. People with asthma may have symptoms like:

  • Chest tightness
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Increased mucus production

During an asthma attack, symptoms worsen suddenly and range from mild to life-threatening. In severe cases, swelling in the airways can block oxygen from getting to the lungs. This means oxygen can’t reach the bloodstream or vital organs. That’s why it’s crucial for people experiencing severe symptoms to get immediate medical help.

What are the Types of Asthma?

Certain types of asthma are associated with different stages of life. Asthma can develop at any age, but pediatric asthma specifically affects children, while adults-onset asthma arises in adulthood. Here are descriptions of other specific types of asthma.

Allergic Asthma:

This kind of asthma is often caused by things that some people are allergic to like:

  • Pet fur from animals like cats and dogs
  • Certain foods
  • Mold
  • Pollen from plants
  • Dust

Allergic asthma sometimes happens more during certain times of the year because it’s connected to seasonal allergies.

Non Allergic Asthma:

This type of asthma is caused by things in the air that aren’t related to allergies. These things can be:

  • Smoke from burning wood
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Cold air
  • Dirty air from pollution
  • Illnesses caused by viruses
  • Smells from air fresheners
  • Cleaning products used at home
  • Perfumes

Occupational Asthma:

This type of asthma happens when certain things at work irritate your lungs. These things can be:

  • Dust
  • Colorings called dyes
  • Gasses and fumes
  • Chemicals used in factories
  • Proteins from animals
  • A material called latex, often used in rubber

These irritants can be found in different kinds of jobs, like:

  • Farming
  • Making clothes
  • Woodworking
  • Factories where things are made

Exercise Induced Bronchoconstriction (EIB):

Exercise Induced Bronchoconstriction (EIB) often happens to people shortly after they start exercising. It can last for about 10 to 15 minutes after they stop. EIB used to be called exercise induced asthma. Most people with asthma, up to 90%, also get EIB. But not everyone with EIB has other kinds of asthma.

Aspirin Induced Asthma:

Aspirin induced asthma (AIA), also known as aspirin-exacerbated respiratory disease, is often serious. It happens when someone takes aspirin or similar drugs like naproxen (Aleve) or ibuprofen (Advil). Symptoms can start quickly, within minutes or hours. People with AIA usually have nasal polyps too. Around 9% of people with asthma have AIA. It usually starts suddenly in adults aged 20 to 50 years old.

Nocturnal Asthma:

In this asthma type, symptoms get worse during the night. Things that can make symptoms worse at night include:

  • Heartburn
  • Pet fur
  • Tiny bugs called dust mites

Your body’s natural sleep cycle can also cause nighttime asthma.

Cough Variant Asthma (CVA):

Cough variant asthma (CVA) doesn’t cause the usual asthma signs like wheezing or feeling out of breath. Instead, it mainly makes you cough a lot without any mucus. But if it’s not treated, CVA can turn into regular asthma with typical symptoms.

What are the Symptoms of Asthma?

Asthma symptoms vary from person to person. You may have infrequent asthma attacks and have symptoms only at certain times such as when exercising or have symptoms all the time. Asthma signs and symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid breathing
  • Frequent infection
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Wheezing when exhaling which is common sign of asthma in children
  • Trouble sleeping caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
  • Coughing or wheezing attacks that are worsened by a respiratory virus such as cold or flu

Signs that your asthma is probably worsening include:

  • Asthma signs and symptoms that are more frequent and bothersome
  • Increasing difficulty breathing as measured with a device used to check how well your lungs are working (peak flow meter)
  • The need to use a quick-relief inhaler more often
  • For some people asthma signs and symptoms flare up in certain situations:
  • Exercise-induced asthma: Which may be worse when the air is cold and dry
  • Occupational asthma: triggered by workplace irritable such as chemical fumes, gasses or dust
  • Allergy- induced asthma: triggered by airborne substances such as pollen, mold spores, cockroach waste, or particles of skin and dried saliva shed by pets

What are the Causes of Asthma?

It isn’t clear why some people get asthma and others don’t but it’s probably due to a combination of environmental and inherited factors. Exposure to various irritants and substances that trigger allergies can trigger signs and symptoms of asthma. Asthma trigger are different from people person to person and can include:

  • Airborne allergies such as pollen, dust mites, mold spores, pet dander or particles of cockroach waste
  • Respiratory infections such as the common cold
  • Physical activity
  • Cold air
  • Air pollutants and irritants, such as smoke
  • Certain medications, including beta blockers, aspirin, and no steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium
  • Strong emotions and stress
  • Sulfites and preservatives added to some types of foods and beverages including shrimp, dried fruit, and processed potatoes beer and wine
  • Gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD) a condition in which stomach acids back up into your throat

What are the Risk Factors of Asthma?

A number of factors are thought to increase your chances of developing asthma. They include:

  • Having a blood relative with asthma such as a parent or sibling
  • Having another allergic condition, such as atopic dermatitis which causes red itchy skin or hay fever which causes a runny nose, congestion and itchy eyes
  • Being overweight
  • Being a smoker
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Exposure to exhaust fumes or other types of pollution
  • Exposure to occupational triggers such as chemicals used in farming, hairdressing and manufacturing

What is the Diagnosis of Asthma?

The diagnosis of it. Such as:

Physical Exam:

Your doctor performs a physical exam to rule out other possible conditions such as a respiratory infection or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Your doctor will also ask you questions about signs and symptoms and about any other health problems.

Health History:

Let your doctor know if any of your family members have asthma. This could mean you’re more likely to get it.

Breathing Tests:

You may be given lung function tests to determine how much air moves in and out as you breathe. These tests may include:


This test estimates the narrowing of your bronchial tubes by checking how much air you can exhale after a deep breath and how fast you can breathe out.

Peak Flow:

A peak flow meter is a simple device that measures how hard you can breathe out. Lower than usual peak flow readings are a sign that your lungs may not be working as well and that your it may be getting worse. Your doctor will give you instructions on how to track and deal with low peak flow readings. Lung function tests often are done before and after taking a medication to open your airways called a bronchodilator (brong-koh-DIE-lay-tur), such as albuterol. If your lung function improves with use of a bronchodilator it’s likely you have it.

In Children:

Doctors usually avoid doing breathing tests on children under 5 because it’s hard to get reliable results. Instead, they might give asthma medication to your child and see if their symptoms get better. If the symptoms improve with the medicine, it’s likely that your child has asthma.

In Adults:

If your test results show asthma, your doctor might prescribe a bronchodilator or another asthma medication. If your symptoms get better with this medication, your doctor will keep treating your condition as asthma.

What is the Treatment of Asthma?

Long-term control is key to stopping attacks before they start. Treatment usually involves learning to recognize your triggers, taking steps to avoid triggers and tracking your breathing to make sure your medications are keeping symptoms under control. In case of an it flare-up you may need to use a quick-relief inhaler.


Preventing long-term control medications reduce the swelling in your airways that leads to symptoms. Quick-relief inhalers quickly open swollen airways that are limiting breathing. In some cases, allergy medications are necessary such as:

  • Long-term asthma control medications
  • Inhaled corticosteroids
  • Leukotriene modifiers
  • Combination inhalers
  • Theophylline
  • Quick-relief (rescue) medications
  • Short acting beta agonists
  • Anticholinergic agents
  • Oral and intravenous corticosteroids

It may help if your problem is triggered or worsened by allergies. These include:

  • Allergy shots (immunotherapy)
  • Biologics
  • Bronchial Thermoplasty:

This treatment is used for severe it that doesn’t improve with inhaled corticosteroids or other long-term asthma medications. It isn’t widely available nor right for everyone. During this treatment your doctor heats the insides of the airways in the lungs with an electrode. The heat reduced the smooth muscle inside the airways. This limits the ability of the airways to tighten, making breathing easier and possibly reducing asthma attacks. This treatment is generally done over three patient’s visits. Your treatment should be flexible and based on changes in your symptoms. Your doctors should ask about your symptoms at each visit. Based on your signs and symptoms your doctor can adjust your treatment accordingly. For example, if your problem is well controlled your doctor may prescribe less medication. If your problem isn’t well controlled or is getting worse your doctor may increase your medication and recommend more-frequent visits.

What are the Additional Tests of Asthma?

Other tests to diagnose asthma include:

Methacholine Challenge:

It is a known trigger. When inhaled, it will cause your airways to narrow slightly. If you react to the methacholine you likely have asthma. These tests may be used even if your initial lung function test is normal.

Imaging Tests:

A chest X-ray can help identify any structural abnormalities or disease (such as infection) that can cause or aggravate breathing problems.

Allergy Testing:

It can be performed by a skin test or blood test. They tell you if you’re allergic to pets, dust, mold or pollen. If allergy triggers are identified your doctor may recommend allergy shots.

Nitric Oxide Tests:

This test measures the amount of the gas nitric oxide in your breath. When your airways are inflamed, a sign of it, you may have higher than normal nitric oxide levels. This test isn’t widely available.

Sputum Eosinophils:

This test looks for certain white blood cells in the mixture of saliva and mucus you discharge during coughing. Eosinophils are present when symptoms develop and become visible when stained with a rose colored dye. In these tests your doctor measures your airway obstruction before and after you perform vigorous physical activity or take several breaths of cold air.

What are the Complications of Asthma?

Asthma complications include:

  • Signs and symptoms that interfere with sleep, work and other activities
  • Sick days from work or school during asthma flare-ups
  • A permanent narrowing of the tubes that carry air to and from your lungs (bronchial tubes), which affects how well you can breath
  • Emergency rooms visits and hospitalizations for severe asthma attacks
  • Side effects from long-term use of some medications used to stabilize severe asthma
  • Proper treatment makes a big difference in preventing both short-term and long-term complications caused by asthma.

What is the Prevention of Asthma?

While there’s no way to prevent it, you and your doctor can design a step by step plan for living with your condition and preventing asthma attacks.

Follow Your Asthma Action Plan:

Write a detailed plan for taking medications and managing an asthma attack. Then be sure to follow your plan. Asthma is an ongoing condition that needs regular monitoring and treatment. Taking control of your treatment can make you feel more in control of your life.

Get Vaccinated for Influenza and Pneumonia:

Staying with vaccinations can prevent flu and pneumonia from triggering flare-ups.

Identify and Avoid Asthma Triggers:

A number of outdoor allergens and irritants ranging from pollen and mold to cold air and air pollution can trigger its attacks. Find out what causes or worsens your attacks and take steps to avoid those triggers.

Monitoring Your Breathing:

You may learn to recognize warning signs of an impending attack, such as slight coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath. But because your lung function may decrease before you notice any signs or symptoms, regularly measure and record your peak airflow with a home peak flow meter. A peak flow meter measures how hard you can breathe out. Your doctor can show you how to monitor your peak flow at home.

Identify and Treat Attacks Early:

If you act quickly you’re less likely to have a severe attack. You also won’t need as much medication to control your symptoms. When your peak flow measurements decrease and alert you to an oncoming attack take your medication as instructed. Also immediately stop any activity that may have triggered the attack. If your symptoms don’t improve, get medical help as directed in your action plan.

Take Your Medications as Prescribed:

Don’t change your medications without first talking to your doctor even if it seems to be improving. It’s a good idea to bring your medications with you to each doctor visit. Your doctor can make sure you’re using your medications correctly and taking the right dose.

Pay Attention to Increasing Quick-Relief Inhaler Use:

If you find yourself relying on your quick-relief inhaler such as albuterol your asthma isn’t under control. See your doctor about adjusting your treatment.


Is asthma genetic?

Yes, asthma can run in families. If someone in your family has asthma or allergies, you might be more likely to have it too. But not everyone in a family with asthma will get it, and some people with asthma don’t have anyone else in their family who has it. Other things like where you live and how you live can also affect if you get asthma.

Is asthma an allergy?

It is not the same as allergies, but sometimes allergies can make asthma worse. Asthma is when your airways get swollen and narrow, making it hard to breathe. Allergies happen when your body reacts to things like pollen, dust, or pet fur. Sometimes, when people with asthma come into contact with these allergens, it can trigger asthma symptoms. So, while asthma and allergies are different, they can be connected in some cases.

What age does asthma start?

People can get it at any age, but it often starts when they are kids. Many children start having it symptoms before they are 5 years old. However, some people develop asthma as adults too. Some kids outgrow asthma, but others may get it later in life. It’s important to know the signs of asthma at any age and see a doctor if you have symptoms.

What are the types of asthma?

  • Allergies
  • Seasonal
  • Occupational
  • Non-allergic
  • Exercise-induced
  • Difficult
  • Severe
  • Brittle

What is the fastest relief for it?

Short-acting beta-agonists are the most common quick relief drugs for treating asthma attacks and are considered to be bronchodilators. They can be used just before exercising to help prevent symptoms caused by exercise.

Is asthma a lung disease?

Bronchial asthma is a lung disease. Your airways get narrow and swollen and are blocked by excess mucus. Medications can treat these symptoms.

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