Asthma and Other Respiratory Ailments – Overview

While there are many respiratory ailments that can be induced or exacerbated by the presence of elevated air pollution concentrations, the most common are asthma, allergic rhinitis (also known as ‘hay fever’), and allergic conjunctivitis.

Symptoms of allergic rhinitis typically include coughing and/or tightness in the chest, sneezing, runny nose, and occasionally a scratchy or burning palate and throat. Symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis most often consist of itchy, watery, irritated eyes. Allergic rhinitis and allergic conjunctivitis tend to be more seasonal in nature, varying based on the presence of such allergens as pollen and mold spores in the air. The severity of a person's reaction depends on how sensitive the person is to a particular allergen and how much allergen is present in the air. Plants release different amounts of pollen during different months. Someone who is allergic to the pollen from a particular species of tree might suffer during March but show no allergic symptoms the rest of the year. If a person has wheezing and/or shortness of breath, the allergy may have progress to become asthma.

The good news is that there are treatments available to help alleviate the symptoms of those who suffer from these ailments. Always consult your doctor before treatment to find out which treatment will be right for you.

What is Asthma?

  • Asthma is a disease in your body's airways, which are the paths that carry air to your lungs. Asthma causes the inside walls of the airways to be inflamed or swollen. When this happens, people have repeated episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, or nighttime or early morning coughing.

What are asthma symptoms, episodes, and attacks, and what causes them?

  • Asthma symptoms may include coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, and trouble breathing. When people have only some coughing, wheezing, or trouble breathing, they call it having asthma symptoms, or an ‘asthma episode’, or an ‘asthma exacerbation’. When asthma symptoms keep getting worse or are suddenly very severe, it is an ‘asthma attack’. During an asthma episode or attack, the sides of the airways in your lungs swell, and the airways shrink. Less air gets in and out of your lungs, and mucus clogs up the airways even more. Severe asthma attacks can be life-threatening.
  • Things that cause asthma symptoms, episodes or attacks are called triggers. Triggers are everywhere. Both indoor and outdoor air can be full of asthma triggers. If you or a loved one has asthma, it's important to learn what triggers an asthma episode. You should also learn what steps you can take to reduce these triggers.

Who gets asthma?

  • Asthma is common among children and teens (about 1 in 10 have asthma), but anyone can get asthma - people of all ethnic groups, male and female, young and old, city dwellers and rural dwellers. In the United States, more than 20 million people have asthma. While no one knows for sure why some people develop asthma and others don't, we do know that it is a combination of your family history and your environment. Currently, there is no cure for asthma. Once you have asthma, you will have the disease for the rest of your life.

What can I do if I have asthma?

While there is no cure for asthma, asthma can be controlled when patients and doctors work together using medicines and management of environmental triggers. If you have asthma, it is recommended that you:

  • Work with your doctor to identify your asthma triggers.
  • Ask your doctor to write your Asthma Action Plan.
  • Remove or reduce your exposure to your known asthma triggers.
  • Take daily medicines as written on your Asthma Action Plan. Know your asthma warning signs to catch an episode before it gets worse. Follow your Asthma Action Plan.
  • If your asthma seems to be getting worse, see your doctor. You may need to adjust your Asthma Action Plan.

Where can I learn more about asthma?

There are several resources available that can provide more information on asthma. Click on the links that follow to learn more. You can also talk to your family physician for more information.