Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the airways. Airways are tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. Asthma causes the inside walls of airways to become sore and swollen, making it hard to breathe.
When you have asthma, certain triggers can cause asthma attacks. Attacks can vary in severity from mild to serious. In some cases, they can be life-threatening.
Asthma rates have been rising in the United States and many other parts of the world for the past three decades. There is not a clear reason why, but there are several theories experts are working on.
Understanding the increase in asthma cases is an important part of learning how to prevent it. Many in the medical and scientific communities are trying to discover its cause to help prevent it. But for now, the focus is on managing asthma.
Children are more likely to have asthma than adults. More than 7 million children have asthma in the United States. And most of them have at least one asthma attack each year. In fact, asthma is the third leading cause of hospitalizations among American children ages 15 and younger.
Children have smaller airways than adults, which makes asthma especially serious for them. Children with asthma may wheeze, cough, and have chest tightness and trouble breathing, especially early in the morning or at night.
When asthma symptoms become worse than usual, it is called an asthma attack.
Many things can cause asthma attacks, including:
- Allergens: mold, pollen, animals
- Irritants: cigarette smoke, air pollution
- Weather: cold air, changes in weather
- Infections: flu, common cold
When Asthma Won’t Let Go
Asthma is the most common long-term disease in children. But it can affect people for their whole lives. While it’s true that some see their asthma fade as they get older, particularly in the teen years, many others don’t. Or their asthma may disappear for a while, then pop up later on in adulthood.
Doctors can’t easily predict which people will see their asthma return or continue later on in life. But certain people may be more likely to have asthma through their adult years.
According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, the people most likely to continue having asthma as adults were:
- People who developed asthma at a young age (around age 9)
- Those who are allergic to dust mites
Keeping Asthma Under Control
Many of the same tips that help keep childhood asthma under control also work for adults. You can reduce the risk of asthma attacks by avoiding certain triggers that can make asthma worse, such as smoke.
Here are some tips to control these triggers:
- Use mattress and pillowcase covers to target dust mites. It’s also a good idea to avoid curtains or carpeting in the bedroom.
- Don’t allow pets to sleep in the bedroom.
- Keep your indoor humidity between 35 and 50 percent to control allergy-causing mold.
Asthma is often treated with two kinds of medicines: quick-relief medicines to stop asthma attacks and long-term control medicines to prevent symptoms.
If you are concerned about your asthma or history of asthma, talk to your doctor. Together, you can discuss what to do to reduce your chances of having an attack.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010; Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 2015; National Institutes of Medicine, 2016; Tufts Now, November 2012; “A longitudinal, population-based, cohort study of childhood asthma followed to adulthood,” New England Journal of Medicine, October 2003