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Asthma Center

What Is Asthma?

author image Ann Wu, M.D., M.P.H.
Ann Wu, M.D., M.P.H., is a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital in Boston, an asthma researcher and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. She is also an investigator with the Pharmacogenetics of Asthma Treatment project, which is part of the Pharmacogenomics Research Network, and the lead investigator of the Population-Based Effectiveness in Asthma and Lung Diseases network. She blogs at from her point of view as an asthma doctor, researcher and mom. She tweets from @Asthma3Ways.
What Is Asthma?
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the lungs and causes patients to have trouble breathing. Asthma can be a severe disease that places substantial burden on patients, their families and the community. It costs the United States roughly $56 billion each year, both in medical care as well as auxiliary costs, such as adults missing work or children missing school.

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Who Gets Asthma?

Asthma affects people of every age group and every race. In the U.S., 25 million people have asthma, which represents one in every 12 adults and one in every 10 children. Across the globe, more than 300 million people have asthma, and it is estimated that by the year 2025 an additional 100 million people will be afflicted with the disease. The cause of this increase is unclear, but it appears to be associated with an increase in atopic sensitization, which is the process of inducing an acquired hypersensitivity or allergy.

What’s Going On In The Lungs of Individuals With Asthma?

People with asthma have inflamed airways. This inflammation causes the airways to narrow, making it difficult for the person to breathe air in and out of the lungs. Increased mucus in the airways adds to the airway narrowing. Asthma causes respiratory symptoms, decreased activity and asthma attacks. During an asthma attack, the muscles in the airways tighten and narrow so that less air can flow into the lungs. Although it is uncommon, asthma attacks can be lethal if lack of oxygen to the brain is great enough.

What Can We Do For Asthma?

There is no cure for asthma, but there are effective techniques and treatments to help manage the disease. The goal of management is to reduce symptoms by ensuring that individuals with asthma have access to adequate medications and reduce their exposure to the environmental factors that make asthma worse. With good asthma management, most individuals with asthma are able to live normal, active lives without symptoms. A good partnership with a health care provider often helps.

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