Asthma 101

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Summary & Participants

Asthma strikes a surprisingly large number of Americans. For some it is a nuisance, to others it can be serious. Listen to experts talk about the prevalence of asthma, and what people can do about it.

Medically Reviewed On: July 21, 2012

Webcast Transcript

ANNOUNCER: An estimated 25 million Americans have asthma. Some of those people experience occasional shortness of breath. But asthma can be more serious, and should never be ignored.

NANCY OSTROM, MD: Asthma is both a nuisance, for people that aren't breathing as well as they might be, and a very, very serious problem, in that it can cause death. There are approximately 5000 deaths a year from asthma. And the good news is most of these could be prevented.

ANNOUNCER: Asthma is the result of a several-stage process.

ELLEN CRAIN, MD: It usually is thought to involve three components: swelling of the airways, constriction of the muscles around the airways, and inflammation.

NANCY OSTROM, MD: There's a broad range of symptoms that people can experience with asthma, from having intermittent tightness or wheezing when they perhaps do heavy exercise and being perfectly normal in-between those periods to having daily wheezing, tightness of the chest, difficulty getting a good deep breath, even disruption of sleep with difficulty breathing at night.

ELLEN CRAIN, MD: A typical asthma attack usually begins with coughing, maybe some shortness of breath or feeling of tightness in the chest, and then goes on to more obvious evidence of real difficulty breathing.

NANCY OSTROM, MD: The causes of asthma are not entirely clear, but it does seem that there's generally a genetic predisposition. Once someone has a predisposition, the actual triggers of asthma are varied, but some of the common ones are cold air, exercise, infection, common viruses, irritants and allergies.

ANNOUNCER: Sometimes, avoiding the irritation is all that is necessary.

JAMES KEMP, MD: Asthma can be very easily managed by an environmental modification if the individual is only allergic to one or two substances where they can be eliminated or significantly minimized in the environment. I'll give you an example of that.

If the individual is allergic, let's say, to an animal that's indoors, taking that animal from the bedroom to the living room, or maybe, more ideally, to the kitchen or outdoors eliminates that stimulus for inflammation, and therefore inflammation will diminish and the asthma episodes should diminish.

ANNOUNCER: But often, avoiding asthma triggers is not possible. So in practice, asthma usually requires medical therapy.

NANCY OSTROM, MD: Anyone who has symptoms of asthma needs treatment. It's a matter of whether they need it intermittently or something of a more preventative nature.

ANNOUNCER: If it's to quell an attack, asthma medicine is called "reliever" medicine.

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