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Asthma is narrowing or spasming of the small airways in the lungs. Some people have occasional short bouts of mild asthma. Other people have severe symptoms all the time. Some people have asthma only when exposed to certain triggers such as air pollution, smog, strong scents, chemicals, viral chest infections, allergens, and humidity. Some people only experience asthma at night, and wake up coughing or short of breath. The classic symptoms of an asthma attack include:
• Wheezing when breathing out is nearly always present during an attack. Usually the attack begins with wheezing and rapid breathing, and, as it becomes more severe, all breathing muscles become visibly active.
• Shortness of breath (dyspnea). Shortness of breath is a major source of distress in patients with asthma. However, the severity of this symptom does not always reflect the degree to which lung function is impaired. Some patients are not even aware that they are experiencing shortness of breath. Such patients are at particular risk for very serious and even life-threatening asthma attacks, since they are less conscious of symptoms. Those at highest risk for this effect tend to be older, female, and to have had the disease for a longer period of time.
• Coughing. In some people, the first symptom of asthma is a nonproductive cough. Some patients find this cough even more distressing than wheezing or sleep disturbances.
Asthma can be treated with medications. Most people with asthma will need to use and inhaler either daily or occasionally to control symptoms. Some people will also need treatment for their allergies in order to control asthma. Some people will need to take pills to help control their asthma. If your asthma is particularly bad, you may need to be on steroid pills like prednisone.
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