Asthma is a chronic lung disease that negatively impacts a person's ability to breathe properly. Asthma causes inflammation of the airways, which restricts the volume of air that person is able to move into their lungs. People with asthma have highly sensitive airways, and their bodies often react to irritants more severely than people who do not suffer from the disease. During an asthma attack, the body responds to lung irritation by a sudden tightening of the muscles near the airways. At the same time, the lining of those airways becomes inflamed and a larger than normal volume of mucus is produced. The end result is sudden difficulty in breathing, accompanied by coughing, wheezing and/or shortness of breath.
Scientists are uncertain of the exact cause of asthma, although it is believed that a combination of genetic and environmental factors may be to blame. Some people may be biologically predisposed to developing asthma, while others could develop the disease as a result of repeated exposure to certain types of irritants. An interesting theory about the cause of asthma is known as the hygiene hypothesis. This theory holds that our environment has become so clean and safe that we are no longer exposed to a wide range of bacteria, viruses or parasites as children. That type of exposure prompts the human immune system to grow stronger. In this way, some scientists believe that our current standards of hygiene may be to blame for increased rates of asthma.
Asthma is a disease that does not have a cure, but patients can learn to manage their symptoms and can live normal, healthy lives. The first step is establishing a relationship with a trusted medical provider. Patients should work with their doctor to create an asthma action plan, which might include various medications, an appropriate response to an asthma attack, and learning to identify and avoid environmental triggers.
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