Asthma Overview (cont.)
Syed Shahzad Mustafa, MD
After growing up in the Rochester area, Dr. Mustafa pursued his undergraduate studies at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and attended medical school at SUNY Buffalo. He then completed his internal medicine training at the University of Colorado and stayed in Denver to complete his fellowship training in allergy and clinical immunology at the University of Colorado, National Jewish Health, and Children's Hospital of Denver.
William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
In this Article
- What is asthma?
- What causes asthma?
- What are the signs and symptoms of asthma?
- How is asthma diagnosed?
- What is the treatment for asthma?
- What is an asthma action plan?
- What is the prognosis for asthma?
- Can asthma be prevented?
- Asthma FAQs
- Find a local Asthma & Allergy Specialist in your town
What causes asthma?
Asthma results from complex interactions between an individual's inherited genetic make-up and their interactions with the environment. The factors that cause a genetically predisposed individual to become asthmatic are poorly understood. The following are risk factors for asthma:
- Family history of allergic conditions
- Personal history of hay fever (allergic rhinitis)
- Viral respiratory illness, such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), during childhood
- Exposure to cigarette smoke
- Lower socioeconomic status
What are the signs and symptoms of asthma?
The classic signs and symptoms of asthma are shortness of breath, cough (often worse at night), and wheezing (high-pitched whistling sound produced by turbulent airflow through narrow airways, typically with exhalation). Many patients also report chest tightness. It is important to note that these symptoms are episodic, and individuals with asthma can go long periods of time without any symptoms.
Common triggers for asthmatic symptoms include exposure to allergens (pets, dust mites, cockroach, molds, and pollens), exercise, and viral infections. Tobacco use or exposure to secondhand smoke complicates asthma management.
Many of the symptoms of asthma are nonspecific and can be seen in other conditions as well. Symptoms that might suggest conditions other than asthma include new symptom onset in older age, the presence of associated symptoms (such as chest discomfort, lightheadedness, palpitations, and fatigue), and lack of response to appropriate medications for asthma.
The physical exam in asthma is often completely normal. Occasionally, wheezing is present. In an asthma exacerbation, the respiratory rate increases, the heart rate increases, and the work of respiration increases. Individuals often require accessory muscles to breathe, and breath sounds can be diminished. It is important to note that the blood oxygen level typically remains fairly normal even in the midst of a significant asthma exacerbation. Low blood oxygen level is therefore concerning for impending respiratory failure.
Next: How is asthma diagnosed?
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