Asthma is a chronic disease that affects your airways, which are the tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs. If you have asthma, the inside walls of your airways are inflamed (swollen). The inflammation makes the airways very sensitive, and they tend to react strongly to things to which you are allergic or find irritating. When the airways react, they get narrower and less air flows through to your lung tissues. This causes symptoms like wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), coughing, chest tightness, and trouble breathing.

Asthma cannot be cured, but for most patients it can be controlled so that you have only minimal and infrequent symptoms and you can live an active life. So, if you have asthma, taking care of it is an important part of your life. Controlling your asthma means staying away from things that bother your airways and taking medicines as directed by your doctor. By controlling your asthma every day, you can prevent serious symptoms and take part in all activities. If your asthma is not well controlled, you are likely to have symptoms that can make you miss school or work and keep you from doing things you enjoy. Asthma is one of the leading causes of children missing school.

When an individual experiences a worsening of your asthma symptoms, it is called an asthma episode or attack. In an asthma attack, muscles around the airways tighten up, making the airway openings narrower so less air can flow through. Inflammation increases and the airways become more swollen and narrow. Cells in the airways also make more mucus than usual. This extra mucus also narrows the airways. These changes cause the symptoms of asthma and make it harder to breathe. Asthma attacks are not all the same-some are worse than others. In a severe asthma attack, the airways can close so much that not enough oxygen gets to vital organs. This condition is a medical emergency. People can die from severe asthma attacks.

Bronchial Asthma

Bronchial asthma is usually an allergic reaction with breathing difficulties and wheezing. The smooth muscles wrapped around the airways spasm causing them to narrow and mucus is usually produced because the airways become irritated. Most attacks are caused by hyper-sensitivity to air-borne particles or allergies to foods.

Cough Variant Asthma

Asthma that is displayed by a persistant and irritating cough.

Exercise Induced Asthma

Exercise Induced Asthma (EIA) is noticed during or shortly after exercise. The person feels wheezy and short of breath. Exercising in the winter seems to be particularly bad for this type of asthma. Because exercise becomes a problem and is unpleasant, often the person does less exercise, becoming less fit as a result. Sometimes this deteriorates to the point where the only exercise taken is from the house to the bus stop. If you have the misfortune to be late for the bus then it becomes a major problem.

Extrinsic Asthma

Asthma triggered by external agents such as pollen or chemicals. Most cases of extrinsic asthma have an allergic origin and are caused by an IgE mediated response to an inhaled allergen . This is the type of asthma commonly diagnosed in early life. Many patients with extrinsic asthma may respond to immunotherapy.

Intrinsic Asthma

Asthma triggered by boggy membranes, congested tissues and other native causes such as adrenalin stress or exertion. Intrinsic asthma generally develops later in life and virtually nothing is known of its causes. It carries a worse prognosis than extrinsic asthma and tends to be less responsive to treatment. Intrinsic bronchial hyperactivity can be triggered by infection, exercise, or drugs such as aspirin.

Nocturnal Asthma

Noctural asthma classifies asthma which suddenly worsens in the middle of the night, typically between 2 and 4am. With nocturnal asthma, asthmatics often fall asleep quickly because they are physically exhausted only to wake some three to four hours later with breathing difficulties. They cough and wheeze, take reliever medication, a visit to the bathroom or a drink of water and try to go back to sleep. This is difficult and when the person finally sinks into a deep sleep he is woken a short time later by the alarm. He staggers out of bed feeling as if he would like to climb back into it, unfortunately it is time to get ready for work.

This type of asthmatic frequently feels totally exhausted during the day and needs catnaps to keep functioning at an adequate level. Nocturnal asthma should be taken seriously as there is a high frequency of respiratory arrest and death due to asthma in the early hours of the morning.

Seasonal Asthma

Seasonal asthma can be triggered by trees, grasses or flowers releasing pollen to the atmosphere or by a particular climate. For example, some people find the summer heat makes their asthma worse, while others find spring is particularly bad with the increase in flowering plants.

Silent Asthma

Silent Asthma is a type of asthma attack which give very little or no prior warning and very little wheezing. They are usually severe and can be life-threatening.

Links to Asthma

  • American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI)
  • Asthma screening quiz
  • Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
  • The Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA): This organization works with health care professionals and public health officials around the world to reduce asthma prevalence, morbidity, and mortality. Through resources such as evidence-based guidelines for asthma management, and events such as the annual celebration of World Asthma Day, GINA is working to improve the lives of people with asthma in every corner of the globe.
  • Asthma and Indoor Environments: Information for parents, caregivers, professionals, and partners on information for maintaining clean environments.
  • Asthma support groups
  • Asthma-General information: This newsgroup provides a forum for the discussion of asthma, its symptoms, causes, and forms of treatment. Please note that postings to are intended to be for discussion purposes only and are in no way to be construed as medical advice. Asthma is a serious medical condition requiring direct supervision by a physician.
  • My Asthma: MyAsthma is a unique online community dedicated to assisting you in managing your asthma and allergies.
  • Asthma Control Test: The American Lung Association supports the Asthma Control Test and wants everyone 12 years of age and older with asthma to take it, no matter how well controlled you think your asthma is. Your answers to this 5-question quiz will provide you a score that may help you and your doctor determine if your treatment plan is working or if it might be time for a change.
  • American Lung Association
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