Doctor's Orders

Q & A:

All About Asthma


By: Dr. Lou Romig


What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic disease of both children and adults that can start at any point in a person’s life. People with asthma most often have recurrent attacks of symptoms in response to acute allergies or infections, although they can also be triggered by weather changes, environmental temperatures and stress. Asthma causes spasm of the small air passages in the lungs (bronchospasm) as well as inflammation and mucus production in the lungs. The spasm and inflammation make the small air passages even smaller, making it hard to pull air into the lungs and push it back out again.


What are the symptoms of asthma?

Symptoms of asthma can include cough, chest tightness and pain, wheezing and shortness of breath.


The most effective treatment for asthma consists of medications to relieve both the spasm and the inflammation. There are also medications that can be taken on a daily basis to help prevent asthma attacks.


Other terms used for patients with bronchospasm include bronchitis, hyperactive airway disease and reactive airway disease. Adults with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) have similar symptoms.


Is asthma genetic, environmental or both?

Asthma frequently runs in families, so there is a genetic basis; but it’s also possible to have asthma with no family history. In these cases, environmental triggers are often the cause. If the patient is removed from the environment, the asthma may no longer be a problem.


What environmental factors can trigger as asthma attack?

Strong smells and chemicals, such as smoke, paint, cleaning solutions, pesticides, chlorine and even perfume can trigger an asthma attack in some people. Freshly mown grass, yard work and windy days can trigger attacks, because they stir up allergens in the environment. Chronically wet environments, such as those found in homes in areas around water leaks or after flooding, can cause the growth of mold, which can trigger asthma attacks.


Is it safe to exercise if you have asthma?

Yes, most of the time it is safe and even encouraged for someone with asthma to exercise, especially when their asthma is controlled by the use of daily medications. Some people with asthma tend to have bronchospasm when they exercise. Controller medications and the use of a rescue inhaler can make it very safe for these people to enjoy an active life.