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Asthma is a lung condition that causes a person to have difficulty breathing. Asthma is a common condition: More than 6 million kids and teens have it.

Asthma affects a person's bronchial tubes, also known as airways. When a person breathes normally, air is taken in through the nose or mouth and then goes into the trachea (windpipe), passing through the bronchial tubes, into the lungs, and finally back out again. But people with asthma have airways that are inflamed. This means that they swell and produce lots of thick mucus. They are also overly sensitive, or hyperreactive, to certain things, like exercise, dust, or cigarette smoke. This hyperreactivity causes the smooth muscle that surrounds the airways to tighten up. The combination of airway inflammation and muscle tightening narrows the airways and makes it difficult for air to move through.

In most people with asthma, the difficulty breathing happens periodically. When it does happen, it is known as an asthma flare-up also known as an asthma attack, flare, episode, or exacerbation.

A person having an asthma flare-up may cough, wheeze (make a whistling sound while breathing), be short of breath, and feel an intense tightness in the chest. Many people with asthma compare a flare-up to the sensation of trying to breathe through a straw - it feels extremely hard to get air in and out of their lungs. An asthma flare-up can last for several hours or longer if a person doesn't use asthma medication. When an asthma flare-up is over, the person usually feels better.

Between flare-ups, a person's breathing can seem completely normal, or a person may continue to have some symptoms, such as coughing. Some people with asthma feel as if they are always short of breath. Other people with the condition may only cough at night or while exercising and they may never have a noticeable flare-up.

What Causes It?

No one knows exactly what causes asthma. It's thought to be a combination of environmental and genetic (hereditary) factors. A teen with asthma may have a parent or other close relative who has asthma or had it as a child. Teens who are overweight may be more likely to have asthma, although a person doesn't have to be overweight to have it. 

Asthma isn't contagious, so you can't catch it from someone who has it.

Asthma symptoms can be brought on by dozens of different things, and what causes asthma flare-ups in one person might not bother another at all. The things that set off asthma symptoms are called triggers. The following are some of the common triggers:

  • Allergens. Some people with asthma find that allergens - certain substances that cause an allergic reaction in some people - can be a major trigger. Common allergens are dust mites (microscopic bugs that live in dust), molds, pollen, animal dander, and cockroaches.

  • Airborne irritants and pollutants. Certain substances in the air, such as chalk dust or smoke, can trigger asthma because they irritate the airways. Cigarette smoke is a major cause of asthma symptoms, and not just for smokers - secondhand smoke can trigger asthma symptoms in people who are around smokers. Scented products such as perfumes, cosmetics, and cleaning solutions can trigger symptoms, as can strong odors from fresh paint or gasoline fumes. And some research studies have found that high levels of air pollutants such as ozone may irritate the sensitive tissues in the bronchial tubes and can possibly aggravate the symptoms of asthma in some people with the condition.

  • Weather. Cold or dry air can sometimes trigger asthma symptoms in certain people, as can extreme heat or humidity.

  • Respiratory tract infections. Colds, flu, and other viral infections¬†can trigger asthma in some people.

There are lots of other things that can trigger asthma symptoms in people with the condition. For example, a girl's asthma can get worse just before her period. And even laughing, crying, and yelling can sometimes cause the airways to tighten in sensitive lungs, triggering an asthma flare-up.

Links to asthma :
- WikiPedia
- Total Health

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