Asthma: An Overview

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Asthma, sometimes called bronchial asthma, is a very common disease that affects millions of adults and children.  The word “asthma”  is derived from Greek and is literally translated as “panting” or “shortdrawn breath”.  If you or your child has ever experienced an asthma attack, this translation may seem quite appropriate. Yet, asthma specialists are quick to point out that most asthma patients commonly have more subtle asthma symptoms and only rarely do they experience full-fledged asthma attacks.

Interestingly, both adult asthma and childhood asthma have increased dramatically over the last three decades. In the United States, about 20 million people have been diagnosed with asthma. Included in this statistic are nearly 9 million who have childhood asthma or pediatric asthma.
The one characteristic that all asthmatics have in common is airway inflammation. This inflammation in the bronchial tubes leads to hyper-responsiveness or hyper-excitability of the bronchial tubes to both allergic and non-allergic stimuli. When the airway is inflamed, asthma symptoms can be precipitated, and this will likely result in coughing and intermittent wheezing. As the inflammation worsens, obstruction to breathing becomes evident due to the swelling of the inner lining of the bronchial tubes, increasing mucous production, and the constriction of the muscles around the bronchial tubes, leading to the classic symptoms of intermittent or persistent wheezing, tightness in the lungs, and difficulty breathing.

Asthma is also called Reversible Obstructive Airways Disease, or ROAD. By definition, the bronchial tubes (airways) become constricted or narrowed.  By definition, this constricted state is reversible, meaning that the narrowing resolves either spontaneously or with asthma medication.

The goal of asthma treatment is asthma control. Asthma control is indeed attainable in almost all cases of adult asthma and asthma in children. An asthma specialist is trained to provide the asthma patient with a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to the individual patient. There are now formal asthma guidelines, written by asthma specialists and endorsed by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Clinical Immunology, which are being used by allergists, pulmonologists, pediatricians and other primary care physicians to ensure the highest standards of asthma care.

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