What Is Asthma?

Asthma Definition

Asthma is a disease that affects your lungs. It is a chronic disease, which means it is with you all the time, but you only have problems or asthma attacks when something bothers your lungs. Even when you are not having any asthma signs or symptoms, your asthma is affecting your lungs. These changes are small so you don't notice them. Your airways are always a little swollen, or inflamed. When something bothers your lungs, you might have an asthma attack.

During an asthma attack three things happen:

  1. The airways get squeezed a little.
  2. The insides of the airways swell up. Doctors say there is inflammation in the airways.
  3. The insides of the airways make too much mucus.

These things make it hard for the air to get in when you breathe in - or inhale. They also make it hard for air to get out when you breathe out - or exhale. That's why sometimes the chest feels and looks full and tight during an asthma attack and why the nostrils flare out when you breathe out.

Lots of people have asthma. Sport stars like Dominique Wilkens (all-star basketball player), Isaiah Thomas (basketball player), Jackie Joyner Kersee (track star), doctors, rock stars and presidents have asthma. The key to their success was learning to control their asthma so they did not have asthma attacks.

How an Asthma Attack Starts

First, your breathing is fine. Then you get near something or do something that bothers your lungs. After awhile, your body starts to send you clues, like a cough to tell you your breathing is getting harder. But, you feel like you can keep going. If you do not take asthma medicine when you feel these clues, you will have an asthma attack.

What to Do When an Asthma Attack Starts

There are several steps for handling an attack. The order in which you do these things depends on your situation and whether you have your medicine with you or need to send someone to get the medicine.

  1. Take asthma rescue medicine right away.
  2. Relax. Sit down somewhere away from the thing(s) that started the attack.
  3. Breathe slowly to help relax.
  4. Tell a grown-up or ask a friend to tell a grown-up.