What is Asthma?


William F. Morgan, M.D., Roxanne, R. Irestone, R.N.

Asthma has three major components: bronchial spasm (squeezing of the smooth muscles around the airway), airway wall inflammation (swelling of the airway lining), and excess mucus production. All three factors reduce the size of the airway making breathing more difficult. This ongoing process of airway inflammation is triggered by both allergic and non-allergic agents. Major allergic triggers are pollens, foods, dust, molds, and pets. Major non-allergic triggers are viral illness, exercise, cold air, and smog.

The key to controlling asthma is to prevent the inflammation with long-term “controller” medication and use quick “reliever” medications on an as-need basis. The more the airway becomes inflamed, the more hypersensitive they become, and the worse the asthma and potential damage to the bronchial tubes becomes over time.

In 1991, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published the Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma, revised in 1997. Many education programs for medical clinician and patients reinforced the importance of classifying asthma by the level of severity and using the corresponding recommended medication for that category.

Major goals defined in 1997 Guidelines to improve the quality of life for both the asthmatic and family include:

  • Prevent chronic (ongoing) and troublesome symptoms.
  • Maintain normal pulmonary function as near as possible.
  • Maintain normal activity levels (exercise) as near as possible.
  • Prevent recurrent exacerbations (asthma episodes not relieved with quick reliever medications). Reduce emergency room and hospital admissions.
  • Provide optimal drug therapy with minimal or no side effects.
  • Work in partnership with the patient and family to meet expectations and satisfaction with asthma care.

Posted in: Asthma

Allergy and the Environment