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Asthma is a common lung disease that causes repeated bouts of
wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing, especially at
night or in the early morning. A person with asthma has difficulty breathing
because of inflammation and narrowing of the airways.
What is going on in the body?
In a person with asthma, the airways narrow as a result of irritation and inflammation.
During an asthma flare-up or "asthma attack," muscles of the airway
tubes, or bronchi, tighten. The reaction in the lungs is out of proportion with
the amount of stimulation experienced. The inflammation and tightening in the
airways increases, trapping air in the lungs. The overreaction to the trigger
causes excess mucus to form in the lungs. The person cannot take in a full
breath and feels short of breath.
Sometimes the reaction to the trigger causes swelling throughout the entire
bronchial tube. The opening in the center of the tube then becomes smaller, and
breathing becomes more difficult. When the muscles relax, the bronchial tubes
open wider. Asthma symptoms then resolve, and breathing
What are the causes and risks of the disease?
Asthma is caused by an immune system response. The immune system overreacts to
triggers and causes the airways to become inflamed and tight. Often there are
provoking factors, or triggers, that cause asthma
symptoms. Triggers differ from person to person. Asthma triggers include:
allergies to food such as peanuts
or to foods with sulfites, such as beer, wine, processed foods, and shrimp
cold and dry air and wind
dust and dust mites
hormonal changes resulting from pregnancy
indoor and outdoor pollution from exposure to fumes, paint, fireplace
smoke, or perfume
pets with fur or feathers
viral infections, such as a cold or flu