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An Overview of Asthma

Updated on March 5, 2016


So What Exactly Is Asthma?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), ”Asthma is a chronic disease characterized by recurrent attacks of breathlessness and wheezing, which vary in severity and frequency from person to person.” Asthma is a type of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a family of lung diseases that affect a person’s health over a long period of time by reducing their ability to breathe. The chronic aspect of it makes this condition particularly difficult to live with as the symptoms occur periodically, usually for the rest of the person’s life. If not properly managed, asthma can be a life-threatening condition.

What Is Going On In My Body?

During an asthma attack, the amount of air that can enter the lungs (known as inspiratory capacity) is greatly reduced, producing the characteristic symptoms of this respiratory condition. It is caused by an acute inflammation of the bronchial tubes, resulting in narrowing of the breathing passageways. There a few different types of asthma, including exercise-induced asthma, caused by physical activity, nighttime asthma and allergic asthma. There is currently no cure for asthma, but with medication and proper lifestyle changes, it is possible to keep is under control.

An important part of asthma management is having the required knowledge to identify symptoms, triggers as well as the proper interventions in case of an attack. Knowing how to use medications such as inhalers, nebulizers and antihistamines (allergy medication) is crucial.

How Many People Have Asthma?

The WHO estimates that 235 million people worldwide suffer from asthma. It is a very widespread disease, especially among children; it affects one in 20 children. Asthma is responsible for over 3300 deaths every year in the USA, and it is a contributing factor in almost 7000 more deaths annually. The prevalence of this serious disease is actually on the rise, with an increase of over 50% since 1980.

How Does it Affect the Economy?

Asthma is a major economic burden. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) lists it as the fourth cause of absence from work, resulting in a loss of productivity of nearly $3 billion each year in the USA alone. The costs of emergency room visits, outpatient visits and hospitalizations totalize over $10 billion annually.

What about Children?

Children are particularly vulnerable to asthma. This inflammatory disease has a genetic component; if one parent has asthma, each child has 1 in 3 chances of developing the condition. If both parents suffer from asthma, this rate more than doubles.

The symptoms of asthma sometimes disappear on their own as the child grows older. However, the presence of allergens such as pet dander and cigarette smoke in the environment increase the chances that the symptoms will persist through adulthood.

Awareness Campaigns

May has been declared National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month in the United States. It coincides with the peak of the allergy season. Several events and activities are organized on a national level to promote awareness for asthma and allergic diseases, as well as raise funds for research. The symbol for the asthma awareness campaign is a silver ribbon, similar to breast cancer’s pink ribbon.

On the first Tuesday of May, many countries participate in a worldwide asthma awareness day, an annual event organized by Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) with the goal of promoting awareness and care all over the world. This activity takes place around a theme, such as the 2013 theme “You Can Control Your Asthma”.


American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America:

Global Initiative for Asthma

World Health Organization:

Notes for client : Suggested titles and alt text for pictures (first picture Asthma, alt text Using asthma inhalers) (second picture Asthma Awareness Day, alt text Silver Ribbon)


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