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Understanding Asthma

Causes of asthma

The main components of asthma include airway inflammation and airway constriction. Both components may affect the airways of your lungs, making it more difficult for you to breathe.

You may still need to pay attention to how your asthma makes you feel, even when you don't have many symptoms. The more severe the inflammation and constriction become, and the longer they go untreated, the worse your asthma symptoms may be and the harder they may be to control. You may need to monitor your asthma symptoms every day, because the disease is always with you. Work with your healthcare provider to understand your symptoms and how they can be managed.

When you have asthma, the airways of your lungs may 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 may cause a swelling 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 may be inflamed even when you aren’t having symptoms. When the airways stay inflamed over time, they may become more sensitive to asthma triggers. Then, when you are exposed to triggers, it is possible that your inflammation and symptoms may get worse. It is important to monitor your symptoms so that you can recognize when they are getting worse.

Airway constriction, or bronchoconstriction, often accompanies inflammation.

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, the airway constriction and airway inflammation can result in common asthma symptoms that you may experience from time to time: wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, or shortness of breath. These symptoms may lead to difficulty with exercise, sleep, and routine daily activities.