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Asthma Health Center

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What Is Asthma?

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Adult-Onset Asthma

Asthma may occur at any age, although it's more common in people under age 40. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2013, 18.9 million American adults, or 8.2% of the adult population, had asthma.

People who have a family history of asthma have an increased risk of developing the disease. Allergies and asthma often occur together, along with eczema. Smoking with asthma, a dangerous combination, is still seen commonly.

However, anyone can develop asthma at any time, and adult-onset asthma happens frequently. If you have symptoms of asthma, talk to your doctor. If you have adult-onset asthma, your doctor will instruct you in using the asthma inhalers and other asthma medications to prevent further breathing problems. Your doctor will guide you on which medications are for prevention and which medications are meant to "rescue" you if you experience difficulty breathing.

For more information, see WebMD's Adult-Onset Asthma.

Asthma in Children

Asthma is increasingly prevalent among children. Nearly one in 10 American children now has asthma, a sharp rise that still has scientists searching for a cause. As of 2013, an estimated 7.1 million children under age 18 (9.5%) have been diagnosed with the disease. The rate of childhood asthma has more than doubled since 1980, according to the CDC.

Asthma symptoms can vary from episode to episode in the same child. Signs and symptoms of asthma to look for include:

  • Frequent coughing spells, which may occur during play, at nighttime, or while laughing. It's important to know that coughing with asthma may be the only symptom present.
  • Less energy during play, or pausing to catch breath during play
  • Rapid or shallow breathing
  • Complaint of chest tightness or chest "hurting"
  • Whistling sound when breathing in or out. This whistling sound is called wheezing.
  • Seesaw motions in the chest from labored breathing. These motions are called retractions.
  • Shortness of breath, loss of breath
  • Tightened neck and chest muscles
  • Feelings of weakness or tiredness

For more information, see WebMD's Asthma in Children.

Asthma Causes and Triggers

People with asthma have very sensitive airways that react to many different things in the environment called "asthma triggers." Contact with these triggers cause asthma symptoms to start or worsen. The following are common triggers for asthma:

  • Infections such as sinusitis, colds, and flu
  • Allergens such as pollens, mold spores, pet dander, and dust mites
  • Irritants such as strong odors from perfumes or cleaning solutions, and air pollution
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Exercise (known as exercise-induced asthma)
  • Weather; changes in temperature and/or humidity, cold air
  • Strong emotions such as anxiety, laughter or crying, stress
  • Medications, such as aspirin-sensitive asthma

For more information, see WebMD's Causes of Asthma.

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