From the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health
Asthma is a chronic (long-term) lung disease that inflames and narrows the bronchioles or airways. People of all ages have asthma, but it most often starts in childhood.
Asthma causes recurring periods of wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing. The coughing often occurs at night or early in the morning.
Many people with asthma are allergic to airborne allergens. It is believed that allergens (mostly those found indoors), when inhaled, cause inflammation in the airways in the lungs. Inflamed airways are more sensitive to allergens, but also extremely sensitive to irritants and to some viral infections.
Allergens, irritants, and viral infections can trigger asthma attacks. During an asthma attack, the muscles surrounding the walls of the airways in the lungs constrict and narrow the airways.
Also, the inside walls of the airways become swollen, making the airways even narrower. The constricting and swelling of the airways prevent air from flowing freely through the lungs.
In a severe asthma attack, the airways can close so much that not enough oxygen gets to vital organs like the heart and brain. These severe attacks are considered medical emergencies.
If your asthma is not well controlled, then you may miss school, work, and other activities.
Symptoms of asthma include:
- Difficulty breathing.
- Tightness in the chest.
Even when you feel fine, you still have the disease and it can flare up, especially when you breathe in allergens or irritants from the environment. These are called triggers.
Some common asthma triggers include:
- Allergens such as animal dander from the skin, hair, or feathers of animals; dust mites (contained in house dust); cockroaches; pollen from trees and grass; and mold (indoor and outdoor).
- Airborne irritants including smoke, strong odors or scents, and pollution.
- Cold air, changes in weather, and exercise.
- Workplace chemicals or allergens.
|Asthma and pregnancy|
|Pregnant women who have asthma need to control the disease to ensure their fetus gets enough oxygen. Poor asthma control raises the chance that a baby will be born early, have a low birth weight, and be at risk of death. Studies show that it is safer to take asthma medicines while pregnant than to risk having an asthma attack. But you need to carefully review these medicines with your health care provider.|
Asthma cannot be cured. With proper treatment, most people who have asthma can control their asthma and be active all day and sleep well at night. You can control your asthma with these key actions:
- Work with your health care provider to make a written action plan that describes how you can manage your asthma day-to-day. Be sure to ask questions and discuss any concerns about your asthma treatment. This way, you and your health care provider can work together on a plan that is best for you.
- Take your medications as directed. Everyone with asthma needs a quick relief medication for symptoms. Many patients need daily long-term control medication. Most of these patients use inhaled corticosteroids, but some may need additional medications.
- Avoid or control allergens or irritants that make your asthma worse. Your health care provider will help you learn which triggers affect you the most and how to avoid or control them.
- Get regular asthma checkups to monitor your asthma control and see if your treatment should stay the same or be changed. Visits at least every 6 months are recommended because asthma varies from season to season and can change over time (for example, as a child grows older or if a woman is pregnant).