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Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the lungs and breathing. It causes inflammation and swelling in the airways that lead to the lungs. When this happens, the airways narrow, making it hard to breathe.
Its symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness or pain in the chest
- Trouble sleeping, due to persistent cough or difficulty breathing
- Tiring quickly while exercising
Asthma attacks can vary in severity—some individuals may feel short of breath all the time, while attacks in others may be brought on by certain “triggers.”
Asthma affects an estimated 22 million children and adults in the United States.
Risks for Asthma
Asthma can develop at any age; however, it occurs most frequently in younger individuals. The following factors can increase an individual’s risk, as well:
- Family history—If your parent or sibling has asthma, you are at higher risk.
- Allergies—Most people with asthma also have allergies.
- Smoking—If you’re a smoker, you are at higher risk for asthma. Also, if you are exposed to secondhand smoke or your mother smoked while pregnant, you are at higher risk. In addition, smoke is a trigger for asthma symptoms.
- Environmental exposure—If you’re exposed to fumes, chemicals and pollution, you may be at higher risk. Also, pet dander, dust mites, pollen and other allergens are triggers for asthma symptoms.
What You Can Do
There is no cure for asthma; however, its symptoms can be controlled or minimized through medications and lifestyle choices. Whether you are at risk for asthma or have been diagnosed, there are steps you can take to improve your health and quality of life.
- Talk with and see your doctor regularly
- Use your prescribed medications
- Avoid asthma triggers whenever possible
- Quit smoking if you have asthma; also, if your child suffers from asthma, this is especially important because secondhand smoke contributes to the severity of this disease
- Get a flu shot each year
- Make an “asthma action plan” (a sample plan is available through the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s website)
If your personal Health Questionnaire/Health Assessment results indicate you are at risk for or you have been diagnosed with asthma, we encourage you to learn more about the lifestyle coaching and disease management programs that may be available through your health plan provider (Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Tufts Health Plan, or UnitedHealthcare).
Also, learn all you can about your condition. These websites provide information and support resources: