What Is Asthma? Definition
Asthma is a chronic lung disorder that can make breathing difficult by narrowing and inflaming the airways (bronchial tubes).
“Asthma” is an ancient Greek word meaning “short breath, panting.” One of the telltale signs of asthma attacks is the wheezing and breathing difficulty that they cause.
Asthma attacks can be a frightening experience, and affect breathing by causing
- inflammation, swelling, and narrowing of the airways,
- recurring wheezing,
- chest tightness,
- coughing, and
- shortness of breath.
Chronically inflamed bronchial tubes become very sensitive to inhaled allergens or irritants such as
- tobacco smoke, or
- triggers such as exercise.
Prevalence of Asthma
About 25 million people in the U.S. have asthma; 7 million of those are children. Asthma reports are on the rise. The condition affects men and women equally. Asthma causes over 14 million visits to doctors each year and nearly 2 million visits to emergency departments.
Asthma Can Be Deadly
Asthma can kill. The rate of asthma deaths spiked from 2,600 in 1979 up to 4,600 in 1988. The reasons for this spike are unknown, but may be related to
- inadequate medical care,
- an increased severity of asthma, and/or
- an increase in the number of people with asthma.
African Americans are about three times as likely to die from asthma as white Americans. Most people who die from asthma are over age 50, but children sometimes die of the condition, too.