Asthma As A Killer Disease

You may not think of asthma as a killer disease. Yet each year, nearly 500,000 Americans with asthma are hospitalized, and more than 4,000 die.

Asthma is a chronic condition that occurs when the main air passages of your lungs, the bronchial tubes, become inflamed. The muscles of the bronchial walls tighten and extra mucus is produced, causing your airways to narrow. This can lead to everything from minor wheezing to severe difficulty in breathing. In some cases, your breathing may be so labored that an asthma attack becomes life-threatening.

But asthma is a treatable condition, and most flare-ups and deaths can be prevented. In recent years, scientists have gained a better understanding of asthma's cause. New drugs have been developed to replace standard medications. Greater emphasis also is now put on managing your own condition, much as people manage their diabetes with insulin. Together, you and your doctor can work to gain control over your asthma, reduce the risk of severe attacks and help maintain a normal life.

You're more likely to develop asthma if you have an inherited predisposition to the condition and are sensitive to allergens or irritants in your environment. In fact, the inflammation that causes asthma makes your airways overly sensitive to a wide range of environmental triggers.

Asthma can develop at any age. If you're younger than 30, your asthma is probably triggered by allergies. Many people older than 30 with asthma are also allergic to airborne particles.
For some people with asthma, particularly older adults, respiratory allergies don't seem to play a role. Instead, exposure to any irritant — such as a virus, cigarette smoke, cold air, and even emotional stress — can trigger wheezing

In most cases though, asthma results from a combination of allergic and nonallergic responses. You may react to one or more of the following triggers:

  • Allergens, such as pollen, cockroaches and molds.
    Air pollutants and irritants.
    Smoking and secondhand smoke.
    Respiratory infections, including the common cold.
    Physical exertion, including exercise.
    Cold air.
    Certain medications, including beta blockers, aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
    Sulfites — preservatives added to some perishable foods.
    Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition in which stomach acids back up into your esophagus. GERD may trigger an asthma attack or make an attack worse.


A number of individual medications exist for asthma, and many are used in combination with others. Your doctor can help you decide which option is best for you based on your age and the severity of your symptoms. In general, the four types of treatments are:

Long-term-control medications. These are used on a regular basis to control chronic symptoms and prevent attacks.
Quick-relief medications. You use these as needed for rapid, short-term relief of symptoms during an attack.
Immunotherapy or allergy desensitization shots. These decrease your body's sensitivity to a particular allergen.
Anti-IgE monoclonal antibodies. These are designed to prevent your immune system from reacting to allergens.

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