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Jamaica Scientific Research Institute
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Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the respiratory system. Asthma is a hyper-responsiveness (overly strong response) associated with the airways of the lungs and can lead to recurrent episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and coughing particularly at night or in the early morning.

Healthy Lungs (Image Credit: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute)

Small tube like structures called bronchioles make up the airways in the lungs. They connect to larger tubes (bronchi and trachea) that carry air to and from the lungs and nose when we breathe. In a non-asthmatic person, the muscles around the airway tubes are relaxed and the tissues are thin, allowing for easy air flow. In an asthmatic person the muscles around these same airways contract (tighten and thicken) and the airways become inflamed and lined with excessive mucous. These two conditions restrict the free flow of air,making it difficult for air to breathe. In a severe asthma attack, the airways can close so much so that vital organs do not get enough oxygen, this may lead to death.

Asthmatic lungs (Image Credit: National institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

Research has not been able to definitively prove why some people get asthma and others do not.

Two broad classes of factors have been shown to influence the risk of asthma, however.

i) those that cause the development of asthma (causal) such as genetics, obesity, gender.

ii) those that trigger an asthma attack (environmental) such as allergens,infections, tobacco smoke, outdoor/indoor pollution, diet.


Common Triggers for Asthma

  • Airborne allergens (allergy-induced asthma) such as pollen, animal dander, mold, cockroaches and mites
  • Air pollutants and irritants:  smoke, dust, gases, fumes, strong odour products including paints, hairsprays and other such items. These are usually associated with Occupational Asthma
  • Allergic reactions to some foods or food additives such as peanuts or shellfish; sulfites which are preservatives added to some types of foods and beverages
  • Respiratory infections: such as the common cold
  • Physical activity (exercise-induced asthma)
  • Cold air
  • Stress or strong emotions
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) - a condition in which stomach acids back up into your throat
  • Menstrual cycle in some women
  • Medicines such as aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and non-selective beta-blockers

Common Symptoms of Asthma

Asthma symptoms vary from person to person and also range from minor to severe. Some common symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Trouble sleeping caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
  • An audible whistling or wheezing sound when exhaling (wheezing is a common sign of asthma in children)
  • Bouts of coughing or wheezing that are worsened by a respiratory virus such as a cold or the flu

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For further reading and research into the causes, nature and risk factors of Asthma, you may visit the links below, among others.

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