Asthma is a chronic condition that affects 8 percent of American adults, or almost 19 million people, as well as almost 7 million children. Although it is unclear exactly what causes asthma, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America notes that the condition often runs in families. People with a family history of asthma and allergies are predisposed to developing asthma. Experts believe both genetic and environmental factors play a role.
Some people develop asthma as adults. Adult-onset asthma is often linked to allergies to pets, cigarette smoke, mold, or other substances. Adult-onset asthma can also be linked to obesity or illnesses such as the flu. Women are more likely than men to develop asthma as adults, possibly because of hormone fluctuations.
People with asthma have very sensitive airways and are sensitive to certain triggers. When a person with asthma is exposed to a trigger, the airways swell and get inflamed and the muscles around them can tighten up, making it hard to breathe. People are exposed to allergens throughout life. The immune system responds with tolerance or sensitization. Different people with asthma can have different triggers.
Respiratory infections, such as a cold, the flu, or a sore throat often lead to asthma flare-ups, particularly in children. You can reduce your chance of getting the flu by getting vaccinated every fall.
Dust and dust mites are common asthma triggers. Avoid bedding and pillows filled with down and put covers on your mattress and pillows so there is a barrier between you and dust mites. You can also reduce dust and dust mites by installing air filters in your home and using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.
Breathing mold can trigger an asthma attack. Use a dehumidifier or air conditioner to reduce the amount of humidity in the air and get any water leaks fixed immediately.
Cold, dry air can cause asthma symptoms to get worse. Cold air irritates airways and causes them to shrink. Try to avoid spending time outdoors in very cold weather.
Exercise can cause your chest to tighten or breathing to become labored. This is called exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. Your doctor can prescribe an inhaled medication for you to take before exercising to open your airways.
Cockroach excrement and dust can worsen asthma symptoms. If you have cockroaches in your home, call an exterminator.
For some people, asthma gets worse after taking aspirin or another nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication. Aspirin-induced asthma usually develops after a viral infection and can cause severe symptoms in some people.
Some people develop occupational asthma from breathing in chemicals, metals, chlorine gas, sulfur dioxide, latex, and enzymes in baking flour and detergents. People with occupational asthma have the same symptoms as people with other triggers but may also have nasal congestion and irritated eyes. Occupational asthma tends to get worse after spending more time at work and may improve if you take time off. The longer you are exposed to the trigger, the greater the chance that your symptoms will become chronic.
If you believe you have asthma, or if your symptoms are getting worse, talk to your doctor. He or she can prescribe medication, help you identify your triggers, and suggest changes you can make to your environment to reduce your symptoms.