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Asthma—Adult

Definition

Asthma is a long-lasting health problem. It is a change in how the lining of the airways of the lungs work. Asthma makes the airways narrow and makes it hard to breathe.

Inflamed Bronchus in the Lungs

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Causes

The exact cause is not known. It is likely a mix of genetics and the environment.

Some things trigger symptoms in people with asthma, such as pollen, mold, and pet dander. It causes a reaction that makes it hard to breathe.

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of asthma are:

  • A family member who has asthma
  • Having allergies
  • Health problems, such as seasonal allergies or obesity
  • Having a job in farming, painting, or cleaning
  • Regular exposure to cigarette smoke, including second-hand smoke
  • Taking certain medicines, such as aspirin

Symptoms

Some people may have mild asthma with few flare-ups. Others may have a severe asthma all the time. Symptoms may be:

  • Cough
  • A tight chest
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Problems breathing
  • Feeling tired
  • Problems sleeping
  • Having a hard time exercising

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done.

A spirometry test will be done to measure how much air is breathed in and out. It can also find out the amount and rate of air that can pass through airways.

Treatment

An asthma action plan will made. The goal of the plan is to lower the risk of asthma attacks. A second goal is to manage attacks and ease breathing. Medicine and lifestyle changes will be a part of the plan.

Medicine

Some medicine, called long term, is taken on a regular basis. It can stop asthma tacks from starting. They cannot treat asthma attacks once the attack starts. Not everyone with asthma will need this type of medicine. Long term medicines are:

  • Inhaled corticosteroids—to prevent airway swelling
  • Inhaled long-acting beta agonists—to keep airways relaxed
  • Oral leukotriene modifiers—to prevent airway swelling, ease mucus, and open the airways
  • Inhaled cromolyn or nedocromil—to prevent airways from swelling after contact with a trigger
  • Biologic agents—if asthma is not controlled by other medicine

Other medicine, called fast acting, is used to treat an attack. They can help to quickly open the airways and ease breathing. Fast acting medicine may include:

  • Inhaled quick-acting beta agonists and anticholinergic agents—to open the airways
  • Corticosteroids pills—to ease severe swelling

Procedure

Bronchial thermoplasty may be done for people with severe asthma. Excess muscle around the airway is removed. It will help keep the airway open during an attack.

Healthy Habits

These healthy habits may help to manage asthma:

  • Reducing exposure to triggers
  • Getting enough exercise
  • Staying at a healthy weight
  • Not smoking

Prevention

Asthma cannot be prevented.

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology
http://www.aaaai.org

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
http://www.aafa.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Allergy Asthma Information Association
http://aaia.ca

The Lung Association
http://www.lung.ca

REFERENCES:

Asthma exacerbation in adults and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/asthma-exacerbation-in-adults-and-adolescents. Accessed November 1, 2020.

Asthma in adults and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/asthma-in-adults-and-adolescents. Accessed November 1, 2020.

Asthma stepwise management in adults and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/asthma-stepwise-management-in-adults-and-adolescents. Accessed November 1, 2020.

Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) global strategy for asthma management and prevention. (GINA 2018)

11/2/2015 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillancehttps://www.dynamed.com/condition/asthma-in-adults-and-adolescents: Normansell R, Kew KM, et al. Sublingual immunotherapy for asthma. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Aug 28;8:CD011293.

Last reviewed November 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD  Last Updated: 11/29/2020