Asthma is a chronic disease characterized by inflammation of the airways in the lungs. The inflammation occurs when irritated airways swell and produce extra mucus, a condition called ‘bronchoconstriction’. The combination of the two can cause tightening or narrowing of the airways and make them difficult for air to pass through.
People with asthma then start to wheeze, cough, and have difficulty breathing. Asthma can range from mild to severe and sometimes it can be life threatening.
What Causes Asthma?
The actual causes of asthma are not known, but researchers believe some genetic and environmental factors can lead to the development of asthma. The risk factors of asthma include a person’s genetics, age, race, obesity, allergies, respiratory infections and exposure to tobacco smoke.
Asthma Risk Factors
Although asthma can affect people at any age, current statistics show that more than 50% of asthma cases are found in children between the ages of 2-17.
It is possible that some genes are linked to asthma. Studies have shown that if you have family members with asthma, you are two times more likely to suffer from asthma than a person whose family members do not have asthma. However, the genes that are involved are not clearly identified. It is believed that the genes linked to asthma involve the lungs and the immune system.
- Race, Ethnicity and Socioeconomic Factors
African-Americans have higher risk of getting asthma than Caucasians or other ethnic groups. Race and ethnicity, however, are less likely to play a role in these differences than socioeconomic differences, such as living in an urban area and having less access to optimal health care. Although it is not clearly understood, it is believed that poorer living conditions, greater potential exposure to triggers, and less access to health care contribute to the higher incidence of asthma.
People who have allergies have a higher chance of developing asthma. In fact, almost all asthma sufferers have allergies, especially hay fever allergy (allergic rhinitis) and severe food allergies). Allergens that may be associated with asthma include:
- Air pollution
- Animal dander
- Dust mites
- Certain foods
- Certain medications such as aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
Studies report a strong association between obesity and asthma. Several studies have shown that children and teenagers who were obese (body mass index greater than 25) are two times more likely to have asthma than those with normal body weight. Another study of over 1,000 people found that obese adults with asthma are almost five times more likely than non-obese asthmatics to be hospitalized due to asthma.
- Secondhand Smoke
Studies have shown that children born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy or who childhood in a home with a smoking parent are at significantly increased risk of developing asthma.
- Respiratory infections
It is thought that certain lung infections contracted during childhood can lead to asthma in adulthood. Also, sinus infections and infections such as the ‘common cold and flu’ can trigger asthma attacks in some people.