Asthma is a chronic, or long-term, disease that inflames and narrows the airways of your lungs. Asthma causes a variety of symptoms that can worsen at any time, making breathing difficult. Unfortunately, there is no cure for asthma. Even when you are not having symptoms, you still have inflammation in your lungs. However, by working closely with your healthcare provider to manage your asthma, you may be able to help get your symptoms under control.
The main components of asthma are inflammation and constriction. Both components affect the airways of your lungs, making it more difficult for you to breathe. When you are exposed to a trigger, you may feel changes in your airways. At the same time, there may be changes to your airways that you don’t feel. The more severe the inflammation and constriction get, and the longer they go untreated, the worse your asthma symptoms may be and the harder they may be to control. That’s why it’s so important to work closely with your healthcare provider in managing your asthma.
Inflammation is the body's way of dealing with things it perceives as foreign or harmful. However, when it occurs at the wrong time, or lasts too long, the inflammation itself can be harmful.
This is what happens in people with asthma. When you have asthma, the airways of your lungs can be more sensitive to allergens and to irritants like smoke and dust. This causes the immune system to overreact and produce persistent inflammation in the airways. Inflammation can cause a thickening of the lining of the airways, reducing the amount of air that you take in or breathe out. In some cases, too much thick mucus is produced, which further obstructs the airways.
Your airways can be inflamed even when you aren't having symptoms. When the airways stay inflamed over time, they may grow more sensitive to asthma triggers. Then, each time you are exposed to triggers, your inflammation and symptoms can get worse. Permanent damage to your airways can result.
Airway constriction, or bronchoconstriction, often accompanies inflammation and is another sign that your immune system is overreacting. You may feel a tightening in your chest as the muscles around your airways constrict, or squeeze together. When this happens to airways already narrowed by inflammation, it may obstruct the airways further and make it even harder for you to breathe.
Together, airway constriction and inflammation can result in the common asthma symptoms that you may experience from time to time: wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, or shortness of breath.