What is Asthma?

Asthma is a disease in which the airways become blocked or narrowed. It is a chronic inflammation of the airways in the lungs marked by attacks of wheezing, coughing -- especially coughing at night -- and shortness of breath. When a person is having an asthma attack, the air cannot get in or out of their lungs as easily as usual. A few things you should know about asthma:

Who Gets Asthma?

It's estimated that more than 17 million people in the United States have asthma. Current studies show that children and African-American adults are at highest risk for the disease, but asthma affects people of any race, age or sex.

Asthma can run in the family. People whose parents, siblings or other relatives have asthma are at higher risk of getting it themselves.

It's not yet clear why some people get asthma and others don't. What is clear to medical researchers is that there are factors that help increase the chance a person will develop asthma.

Asthma Triggers

Following are the most common asthma triggers:

  • tobacco smoke
  • dust mites
  • animal dander
  • cockroach droppings
  • indoor mold
  • strong odors (gasoline fumes, perfume, hair spray, paint)
  • exercise
  • cold air
  • house dust
  • food allergies
  • grass, tree and ragweed pollen
  • viral upper respiratory infections

Asthma can also become worse during nighttime. Once a sufferer is exposed to a trigger and has a reaction, their airways also become sensitive to other triggers .