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Health & Safety

What is Asthma?

Bronchial TubesAsthma is an airway disease that affects over 22 million people in the United States. Many people that have asthma live normal lives until they have an asthma attack, which can make it hard to breathe. They then need to take medication to help stop the problem. Asthma is a long-term disease, and once a person has been diagnosed as having it, it almost never goes away. Fortunately, people with asthma can manage some of their attacks by taking their medicine and watching out for the factors that may cause another attack.

  • What is Asthma?: An explanation of what asthma is, what causes it, and how to treat it.
  • Kids Health: An overview of what it means to have asthma and how to manage it.
  • Asthma: Basic Information: A description about what asthma is, with videos and podcasts included on the site.

What Causes Asthma?

Asthma is not something that one person catches from another; it is a disease that people are born with. No one can control if they are born with asthma, but there are many things in the environment that make asthma attacks happen more often. Some people get asthma attacks because they have a dust, pollen, or pet allergy. Other people have problems with asthma because of cigarette smoke in the air; fumes from paints or cleaners; or even dusty, dry weather. There are even people who can have an asthma attack because they have been exercising a lot or they have a cold. All of these things in the environment act as asthma triggers and can cause an asthma attack.

  • What Causes Asthma: An explanation of why some things cause asthma attacks and a list of common triggers.
  • Asthma: Causes and Triggers: A description of the differences between what causes asthma and what some triggers are for asthma attacks.
  • Causes of Asthma: A brief introduction to the common causes of asthma.

What Happens During an Asthma Attack?

An asthma attack can be scary, because a person's lungs are not getting enough air and it is difficult to breathe. During an asthma attack, the small air passages to the lungs become inflamed and swell, making them smaller. Because they are smaller than normal, there is less room for air to get through to the lungs. A person having an asthma attack may have to work very hard to breathe. They may have wheezing, which is a whistling sound while breathing. Asthma attacks make some people cough or their chest may feel very tight and heavy. Not all asthma attacks are the same, though, and some people will have these symptoms while others may be affected a little differently.

How Do Doctors Treat Asthma Symptoms?

Asthma can be treated in several different ways. While there is no cure for asthma, doctors can help people to control some of their symptoms and prevent some attacks from happening. Many people use an inhaler, which is a medicine that is breathed in through the mouth when symptoms of an asthma attack start to happen. This medicine helps to open the air passages and allow a person to breathe better. An example of this type of inhaler is called Proventil, which gives out medicine called Albuterol to help with breathing. Another medication that looks like an inhaler, called Advair, is used with an inhaler, and helps to control how much a person's air passages become irritated. A new medicine, called Xolair, is used to treat asthma and is taken as a shot in a doctor's office. Xolair also has to be used with other medicines, such as an inhaler, to control an asthma attack once it starts..

What Should I Do When an Asthma Attack Occurs?

Asthma attacks can sometimes occur without warning, so it is important to be prepared. People with asthma should talk with their doctor ahead of time to come up with an asthma action plan, so they know exactly what to do when symptoms occur. An asthma action plan can tell when to take medicine, how much, and when to call for help. During an asthma attack, it is important to stay calm, which can be hard because it is a scary time. If an inhaler is nearby, the person having an attack should use it as directed and try to take slow, deep breaths. Call an adult for help if someone is not close by. If the medicine does not take away the symptoms of an asthma attack, notify 911 for further help. Asthma attacks can be frightening, but fortunately asthma can usually be managed. By taking medicine and watching out for attack triggers, people with asthma can live healthy, active lives.

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