Introduction to Asthma

Wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and trouble breathing, especially early in the morning or at night….these are all symptoms of asthma.

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects your airways.  It affects more than 20 million Americans. Asthma is characterized by inflammation and spasm of the airways. Your airways are tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs. If you have asthma, the inside walls of your airways become sore and swollen. That makes them very sensitive, and they may react strongly to things that you are allergic to or find irritating.

Spasm (narrowing of the bronchial tubes) is caused by the inflammation of the muscles surrounding the air passageways. The inflammation makes the airways smaller makes it difficult to move air in and out of the lung. When your airways react, they narrow and your lungs get less air. This can cause wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and trouble breathing, especially early in the morning or at night.

When your asthma symptoms become worse than usual, it’s called an asthma attack. In a severe asthma attack, the airways can close so that your vital organs do not get enough oxygen. In some cases, people die from severe asthma attacks.

Of the 20 million asthmatics, 10 million – including 3 million children – suffer specifically from allergic asthma. Research shows that many people with asthma could better control their disease by controlling their allergies.
Allergic asthma is the most common form of asthma.  Allergic asthma is triggered by inhaling allergens such as dust mites, pet dander, pollens, mold, etc.  These allergens cause inflammation and swelling of the airways. This results in coughing, wheezing and chest tightness.

Allergens are the key cause of allergic asthma and they can’t be completely avoided. But the real culprit is the IgE antibody that is produced by the body in response to allergen exposure. The combination of the IgE antibody with allergens results in the release of potent chemicals.  Thus, IgE is the root cause of allergic asthma.  A new and exciting way to control allergic asthma is to take a medication that binds IgE and prevents it from setting off the inflammatory response.   Only allergists or pulmonologists can prescribe and administer this medication.

Asthma is treated with two kinds of medicines: quick-relief medicines to stop asthma symptoms and long-term control medicines to prevent symptoms.   Allergic asthma is treated with avoidance of allergens, anti-allergy medication and allergy shots.

There is a lot of exciting new research regarding asthma and genetics, nutrition, and alternative therapies.  Your allergist can provide you with more information on the treatment options that are best for you.