Closely linked to allergies, asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease that makes a person's airways (bronchial tubes) particularly sensitive to irritants. During an asthma episode, an individual might experience a tightening in the chest or a cough, shortness of breath or wheezing. It is often difficult for the asthma sufferer to move air in and out of the lungs.
Asthma triggers may be allergens but may also be other environmental factors such as pollution, strong odors or weather changes. Asthma symptoms may only occur during certain times of year or in certain situations, such as with exercise. Stress or illness may also trigger an asthma episode. What actually triggers an asthma flare up can vary greatly from person to person.
Asthma is the leading chronic illness of children in the United States and the leading cause of absenteeism due to chronic illness. However, asthma symptoms often progress slowly over time and can affect people of all ages. More and more, we are seeing people in their 60's diagnosed with asthma for the first time.
Asthma also affects people of all races. However, African Americans are more likely than Caucasians to be hospitalized for asthma attacks and to die from asthma.
Many newly-diagnosed asthma patients express fear. They believe they will have to stop participating in their favorite activities, or will end up gasping for air and puffing on a "rescue inhaler." Parents often imagine their children sitting inside, not able to go to recess or participate in sports.
ALL OF THESE IMAGES ARE WRONG!
Asthma treatment has come a long way. During the 2004 Olympics, for instance, many of the athletes had asthma, including several medal winners. The goal in asthma treatment is control. For students, control means a team effort involving the parents, the school nurse, and the coach. Medically, control often includes daily anti-inflammatory medications to prevent symptoms from occurring in the first place.
Education is key to teach patients (and their family, school nurse, or coach) how to identify and treat symptoms when they first appear. With appropriate treatment, the vast majority of asthma patients can continue to enjoy any activity they choose, without limitations.