Asthma is a chronic disease that narrows the airways, which are the breathing tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. In the United States, asthma affects up to 10 million adults and 6 million children.
The narrowing of the airways in asthma occurs when:
- small muscles around the airways that squeezes or constricts them;
- mucus that is produced in asthma and blocks the airways; and
- various types of white blood cells that enter the airways which narrows the path for air through the airways. These white blood cells also release chemicals that cause muscles in the airway to constrict it and mucus to be produced.
Asthma very often runs in families and there are genetic risk factors for asthma. They are many exposures and activities that can trigger asthma including pollens, dust, pets, infections, such as the common cold and sinus infections, and exercise.
Asthma symptoms include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. These symptoms are often worse at night and in the early morning. When asthma symptoms become significantly worse, it is called "an asthma attack" or "asthma exacerbation." During an asthma attack, the muscles around the airways tighten up, the number of white blood cells in the airway increases, and the airways become swollen and narrow. These airway changes make it more difficult to breathe and are often compared to trying to breathe through a straw.
Asthma is a chronic (long-term) disease that cannot be cured. Luckily, most people with asthma can control the disease with various medications and education, so that they have minimal and infrequent symptoms.
At Albany Medical Center, we have the medical expertise and resources available to control asthma, as well as teach patients techniques so that they can have an active role in caring for themselves with minimal physician assistance in most cases. Our goal is for asthma patients to live normal, fully active lives, and can very often be achieved.