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How Does Asthma Affect the Body?

author image Robin Jagoda
Robin Jagoda has more than a decade of experience as a fitness/health professional and writer. She is certified as a clinical exercise specialist with the American College of Sports Medicine and holds a B.S. in exercise physiology. Jagoda is also a registered respiratory therapist with the National Board for Respiratory Care.
How Does Asthma Affect the Body?
How Does Asthma Affect the Body?

Introduction to Asthma

Asthma is a disease of the lungs that affects more than 20 million Americans, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. It is a chronic condition that repeatedly causes the airways in your lungs to become narrowed and inflamed. This results in difficulty in breathing, wheezing, chest tightness, coughing and breathlessness. Asthma episodes can sometimes even be life threatening. There is no cure for asthma, but you can manage your symptoms by taking medications and avoiding triggers.


Medical experts aren’t sure of the exact causes of asthma or why some people develop the disease and others don’t. They speculate it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Allergens are a major culprit for triggering asthma attacks. Allergies and asthma often occur together, and the most common type of asthma in the United States is allergy-induced asthma. According to the Mayo Clinic, asthma attacks are brought on by different factors for different people. They include the following:

• Airborne allergens--includes pollen, mold, dust mites and pet dander. • Infections--illnesses that cause respiratory problems, such as the common cold. • Exercise-induced--brought on by physical activity. • Cold temperatures--cold and dry air can irritate airway and cause asthma. • Airborne pollutants and irritants--includes cigarette smoke, wood smoke and chemical fumes. • Stress and emotion. • Food-related allergies and reactions--triggers include peanuts, shellfish and some preservatives, such as sulfites. • Menstruation. • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Effects On the Body

In response to a trigger, an asthma attack can cause airway inflammation, bronchial restriction and irregular airway obstruction. Airway inflammation is the body’s response to an irritant and is characterized by swelling, breathing passageway restriction and mucus secretion. Bronchial restriction occurs when the muscles in your airways constrict and tighten around your bronchial tubes (the breathing tubes in your lungs). Mucus or fluid that is secreted by the reaction can obstruct your airway and make it increasingly difficult to breathe effectively.


Asthma can be managed by avoiding your personal triggers and taking medications. Not everyone who is asthmatic takes the same medications, and there are a variety of treatment options to satisfy individual needs. There are medicines for both long-term and short-term control of asthma that are either inhaled or taken in pill form, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One of the most common treatments for asthma is inhalable albuterol sulfate. Albuterol is a short-term control method, which treats the symptoms of an asthma attack. It is classified as a bronchodilator, which means it allows you to breathe easier by relaxing and expanding your airways. Other treatment methods include corticosteroids in pill form or a metered dose inhaler. Steroids are long-term treatment methods that help you to avoid inflammation of the respiratory system. Asthma attacks that don’t get better with home-based treatment can become life-threatening, and it is important to seek immediate medical care. Establish an asthma treatment plan with your doctor.

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