Sunday, May 16, 2010
No one really knows the causes of asthma. What we do know is that asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways. The causes of asthma symptoms can vary for different people. Still, one thing is consistent with asthma: when airways come into contact with an asthma trigger, the airways become inflamed, narrow, and fill with mucus.
When you have an asthma attack, spasms of the muscles around the airways, inflammation and swelling of the mucosal membrane lining the airways, and excessive amounts of mucus contribute to airway narrowing. This makes airway resistance increase and the work of breathing more difficult, causing shortness of breath, cough, and wheezing. You may have coughing with asthma because of the irritation inside the airway and the body’s attempt to clean out the accumulations of thick mucus.
So why do you have asthma and your friend doesn’t? No one really knows for sure. We do know that allergies play a role in many people with asthma but not in all. As with allergy, you can blame your family history, as there is a strong genetic component for asthma.
If you or a loved one has asthma, it’s important to understand the many asthma triggers. Once you identify and reduce exposure to the specific triggers or causes of asthma, you can take an active role in controlling your asthma and reducing the frequency of asthma attacks. For example, if you find that allergies are the cause of your asthma, you may have allergic asthma. Being aware of allergies and avoiding them can significantly help in asthma prevention by reducing the frequency or severity of asthma attacks. Or if environmental pollution seems to cause your asthma, it’s important to stay indoors during periods of heavy air pollution. Try to find the specific triggers or causes of your asthma, and then plan to avoid these triggers and have better asthma control.
One theory researchers have for what causes asthma is the "hygiene hypothesis." They believe that our Western lifestyle—with its emphasis on hygiene and sanitation—has resulted in changes in our living conditions and an overall decline in infections in early childhood.
Many young children no longer experience the same types of environmental exposures and infections as children did in the past. This affects the way that the immune systems in today's young children develop during very early childhood, and it may increase their risk for atopy and asthma. This is especially true for children who have close family members with one or both of these conditions.