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Asthma (AZ-muh) is a chronic disease of the lung airways. With asthma, the airways are inflamed (swollen) and react easily to certain "triggers," like smoke or dust mites. When the inflamed airways react, they get narrow and make it hard to breathe.
Common asthma symptoms are:
- Coughing, especially at night
- Wheezing — a whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe
- Shortness of breath (feeling like you can't get enough air)
- Chest tightness, pain, or pressure
- Faster breathing or noisy breathing
When these symptoms get worse, you are having an asthma attack. You can die from a severe asthma attack.
Anybody can get asthma, but it is seen more often in African-Americans. More than 3 million African-Americans have asthma. African-Americans go to the hospital emergency room more than whites because of asthma. They also are almost three times more likely to die from asthma-related causes than whites. Asthma most often starts in childhood, and it is a top health problem for African-American children. Asthma is a leading reason why kids miss school.
We don't know what causes asthma. But these factors could increase your chances of getting asthma:
- Air pollution
- Poor housing
- Lack of education
- Not being able to get to a doctor
Asthma has no cure, but it can be controlled. If you have asthma, you must take an active role in controlling it. This means seeing a doctor regularly, taking medicines your doctor gives you, and staying away from triggers that can cause an attack. Common asthma triggers include:
- Secondhand smoke
- Dust mites
- Outdoor air pollution
- Cold air
Explore other publications and websites
Asthma — Asthma is a serious, sometimes life-threatening respiratory disease that affects the quality of life for millions of Americans. Learn more on this site about the indoor and outdoor environmental factors that can cause, trigger, or worsen asthma symptoms.
Asthma and African Americans — This fact sheet compares the asthma rate in African-Americans with the rate in other minority groups. It also has information on asthma and African-American children. The statistics also show how often African-Americans are hospitalized or die from asthma.
Asthma: Learning to Control Your Symptoms (Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians) — This resource features video clips that provide information on trigger signs that may indicate that an asthma attack is near. It also offers tips on how to control your asthma.
Understanding Asthma (Copyright © American Lung Association) — This publication discusses the causes and symptoms of asthma. It includes advice on how to reduce the effects of asthma flare-ups.
What People With Asthma Need to Know About Osteoporosis — People with asthma have a greater risk of osteoporosis. This fact sheet explains what steps people with asthma can take to prevent osteoporosis.
Connect with other organizations
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
American Lung Association
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
Indoor Air Quality Information Clearinghouse, EAP
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Information Center, NHLBI, NIH, HHS
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH
Content last updated May 18, 2010.
Resources last updated May 18, 2010.
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