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All About Asthma

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic, inflammatory disease in which the airways become sensitive to allergens (any substance that triggers an allergic reaction). Several things happen to the airways when a child is exposed to certain triggers:

All of these factors will cause the airways to narrow - thus, making it difficult for air to go in and out of your child's lungs, causing the symptoms of asthma.

Facts about asthma:

According to the latest information available from the American Lung Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID):

What causes asthma?

The exact cause of asthma is not completely known. It is believed to be partially inherited, but it also involves many other environmental, infectious, and chemical factors.

After a child is exposed to a certain trigger, the body releases histamine and other agents that can cause inflammation in your child's airways. The body also releases other factors that can cause the muscles of the airways to tighten, or become smaller. There is also an increase in mucus production that may clog the airways.

Some children have exercise-induced asthma, which is caused by varying degrees of exercise and symptoms can occur during or shortly after exercise. Each child has different triggers that cause the asthma to worsen. You should discuss this with your physician.

The changes that occur in asthma are believed to happen in two phases:

  1. An immediate response to the trigger leads to swelling and narrowing of the airways. This makes it initially difficult for your child to breathe.
  2. A later response, which can happen four to eight hours after the initial exposure to the allergen, leads to further inflammation of the airways and obstruction of airflow.

What are the symptoms of asthma?

The following are the most common symptoms of asthma. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

The symptoms of asthma may resemble other problems or medical conditions. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

Who is at risk for developing asthma?

Although anyone may have asthma, it most commonly occurs in:

What happens during an asthma attack or asthma exacerbation?

Children with asthma have acute episodes when the air passages in their lungs become narrower, and breathing becomes more difficult. These problems are caused by an over-sensitivity of the lungs and airways.

How is asthma diagnosed?

To diagnose asthma and distinguish it from other lung disorders, physicians rely on a combination of medical history, physical examination, and laboratory tests, which may include:

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