About 25 million Americans suffer from asthma, and approximately 6.2 million of them are children under the age of 18. It is one of the most common long-term diseases of children. Each year, approximately 3,600 Americans die from asthma, and the overall number of people who have been diagnosed with asthma continues to grow.
What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic disease that inflames and narrow the airways in the lungs. Asthma makes breathing difficult when you are trying to move air in and out of your airways, or bronchial tubes. If you have asthma, you always have it, but you may not feel its effects except when something bothers your lungs.
For most of the time, we do not know what causes asthma, and we do not know how to cure it. But, we do know that if someone in your family has asthma, you are more likely to have it have it, too.
What Does Having Asthma Feel Like?
When you have asthma, your chest can feel tight. You might hear wheezing as you try to breathe. You may find you cough especially at night and early in the morning. You might feel breathless, as if it is difficult to catch your breath, for no particular reason.
What Happens When You Are Having an Asthma Attack?
Your lungs contain breathing airways called bronchial tubes. As air moves through your lungs, the airways become smaller, like the branches of a tree.
When you are having an asthma attack, these bronchial airways become irritated and swell, causing the airways to narrow, making it more difficult to get air into your lungs. The irritation causes your body to produce mucous in your airways, which clogs up your bronchial tubes even more.
What Causes an Asthma Attack?
Asthma attacks occur when you are exposed to “asthma triggers”. These triggers can vary greatly from one person to the next, but some of the most common triggers include:
- Dust mites
- Cockroach allergen
- Outdoor air pollution
What Should You Do If You Think You Have Asthma
By all means, if you are having trouble breathing, go see a doctor immediately. If you are having great difficulty breathing, call 9-1-1 at once! People can, and do, die from asthma. It can be a serious, life threatening disease.
When you visit your doctor for a diagnosis, the doctor will check how well your lungs work by doing a test called spirometry. It involves a tube that you blow through. The tube is connected to a computer which analyzes lung function by measuring the amount (volume) and/or speed (flow) of air as you exhale then inhale. The doctor may then administer asthma medication to you and perform the test again, to see if there is an improvement in your lung function.
The doctor will ask a lot of questions about if and when you cough, if your breathing is worse at different times of the year, or after exercise. They will also want to know if your chest feels tight, if you wheeze, and if you have colds lasting more than 10 days. The physician will ask if you have any relatives who have allergies, or if any relative has asthma or breathing problems.
Asthma is a serious condition affecting both children and adults. It can be particularly difficult to tell if someone has asthma, especially in children under the age of 5.
If you think you or your child may have asthma and you are in the area of Arlington Heights, Illinois, please call the Northwest Family Health Center at (407) 602-1100, or schedule an appointment online.