Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Allergies Health Center

Select An Article
Font Size

Asthma and Allergies

(continued)

Who Gets Asthma?

Anyone can get asthma, although it tends to run in families. An estimated 20 million adults and children in the U.S. have asthma. The disease is becoming more widespread.

What Causes Asthma?

Asthma is a problem in the airways due to multiple factors. The airways in a person with asthma are very sensitive and react to many things, which are referred to as "triggers." Coming into contact with these triggers often produces asthma symptoms.

There are many kinds of asthma triggers. Reactions are different for each person and vary from time to time. Some people have many triggers while others have none that they can identify. One of the most important aspects of asthma control is avoiding triggers when possible.

Common asthma triggers include:

  • Infections: colds, flu, sinus infections
  • Exercise: very common in children*
  • Weather: cold air, changes in temperature
  • Tobacco smoke and air pollution
  • Allergens: substances that cause allergic reactions in the lungs, including dust mites, pollens, pets, mold spores, foods, and cockroaches
  • Dust or items causing dust
  • Strong odors from chemical products
  • Strong emotions: such as anxiety, and activities like crying, yelling, or laughing hard
  • Medicines: including aspirin, ibuprofen, and beta blocker drugs used to treat conditions including high blood pressure, migraines, or glaucoma.

*Note: Exercise is one trigger you should not avoid. With a good treatment plan, you can exercise as long and as much as desired, except during an asthma attack.

How Is Asthma Diagnosed?

Doctors can use a number of tests to diagnose asthma. First, the doctor reviews your medical history, symptoms, and does a physcial exam. Next, tests may be given to check the general condition of your lungs, including:

  • Chest X-ray in which a picture of the lungs is taken.
  • Pulmonary function test (spirometry): A test that measures how well the lungs can take in air and how well this air can be exhaled (lung function). Also measured is how efficiently the lungs can transfer oxygen into the blood. The patient blows into a tube placed between the lips.
  • Peak expiratory flow: A test that measures the maximum speed that air can be exhaled from the lungs. The patient blows into a hand-held device called a peak flow meter.
  • Methacholine challenge test: A test used to see if the airways are sensitive to methacholine, an irritant that tightens the airways.
  • Other tests, such as allergy tests, blood tests, sinus X-rays and other imaging scans, and esophageal (throat) pH tests may also be ordered. These tests can help your doctor find out if other conditions are affecting your asthma symptoms.

What Is the Treatment for Asthma?

By avoiding asthma triggers, taking medication, and carefully monitoring daily asthma symptoms, asthma attacks can be avoided or at least limited. Proper use of medication is the basis of good asthma control. Drug used to treat asthma include bronchodilators, anti-inflammatories, and leukotriene modifiers.

WebMD Medical Reference

Next Article:

Today on WebMD

epinephrine at school
Article
Woman sneezing with tissue in meadow
Slideshow
 
Woman wth tissue
Slideshow
thumbnail_florist_wearing_surgical_mask
Slideshow
 

woman sneezing
Slideshow
Bottle of allergy capsules and daisies
Article
 
Urban blossoms
Slideshow
Woman blowing nose
Slideshow
 

Woman with itchy watery eyes
Slideshow
Yawning Dog
Slideshow
 
Man sneezing into tissue
Tools
woman with duster crinkling nose
Quiz