Asthma is a condition in which your airways narrow and swell and may produce extra mucus. This can make breathing difficult and trigger coughing, a whistling sound (wheezing) when you breathe out and shortness of breath.For some people, asthma is a minor nuisance. For others, it can be a major problem that interferes with daily activities and may lead to a life-threatening asthma attack.
Asthma is the most common chronic condition in children. It can develop at any age, but it is slightly more common in children than in adults. In 2017, children aged 5–14 years were most likely to experience asthma. In this age group, the condition affected 9.7% of people. It also affected 4.4% of children aged 0–4 years. In the same year, asthma affected 7.7% of people aged 18 years and over.
According to the American Lung Association, some common triggers of childhood asthma include:
- respiratory infections and colds
- cigarette smoke, including secondhand tobacco smoke
- air pollutants, including ozone and particle pollution, both indoors and outside
- exposure to cold air
- sudden changes in temperature
Asthma can develop at any age, including during adulthood. According to one 2013 study, adults are more likely than children to have persistent symptoms.
Some factors that affect the risk of developing asthma in adulthood include:
- respiratory illness
- allergies and exposure to allergens
- hormonal factors
Asthma symptoms vary from person to person. You may have infrequent asthma attacks, have symptoms only at certain times — such as when exercising — or have symptoms all the time.
Asthma signs and symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness or pain
- Wheezing when exhaling, which is a common sign of asthma in children
- Trouble sleeping caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
- Coughing or wheezing attacks that are worsened by a respiratory virus, such as a cold or the flu
Signs that your asthma is probably worsening include:
- Asthma signs and symptoms that are more frequent and bothersome
- Increasing difficulty breathing, as measured with a device used to check how well your lungs are working (peak flow meter)
- The need to use a quick-relief inhaler more often
For some people, asthma signs and symptoms flare up in certain situations:
- Exercise-induced asthma, which may be worse when the air is cold and dry
- Occupational asthma, triggered by workplace irritants such as chemical fumes, gases or dust
- Allergy-induced asthma, triggered by airborne substances, such as pollen, mold spores, cockroach waste, or particles of skin and dried saliva shed by pets (pet dander).
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