Asthma is a respiratory disease that causes chronic inflammation and irritation in the lining of the airways. As the lining becomes irritated, the muscles that control the airways begin to constrict, making it difficult to breathe. Inflammation and irritation also produce an excessive amount of mucus, which can also make breathing more difficult.
Asthma's primary symptom is difficulty breathing during asthmatic episodes, which may range from mild to severe. Chronic coughing, wheezing or “hissing” when breathing, and tightening in the chest are also common symptoms.
Diagnosis begins with an evaluation of symptoms as well as a personal and family medical history to determine if any close relatives also have asthma or allergies. The doctor will listen to your lungs and ask you to breathe in and out deeply to listen for wheezing which is usually present in people with asthma. You may also be asked to perform a simple breathing test that requires you to blow into a special device called a spirometer that can measure how well your lungs are working. In some cases, an x-ray may be taken of your lungs to rule out other potential causes of your symptoms.
While there is no cure for asthma, there are medications that can improve symptoms. Asthma medicines are inhaled, either with a portable handheld device called an inhaler or through a device called a nebulizer. Understanding what triggers your symptoms – for instance, extreme temperatures, physical exertion or exposure to molds and mildews – and then avoiding those triggers whenever possible can also help relieve symptoms. It's also important to remain physically active.