What Is Asthma?

Asthma is one of the most common chronic respiratory conditions affecting Canadians.  There is no known cure for asthma, but it is treatable and if controlled properly you can live a normal and active life. 

Asthma affects the bronchial tubes or airways of the lungs.   In a normal lung, the muscles around the bronchial tubes are relaxed and open, making breathing effortless.  However, in the bronchi of an asthmatic person, the airways are sensitive causing the muscles around the bronchi to tighten (bronchoconstriction), and the inner lining of the airways to become swollen and inflamed (inflammation).  These changes make the airways narrow, making breathing difficult.  Symptoms of asthma include, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, coughing and wheezing.  There are certain things that cause asthma symptoms; these are called “triggers”.  Asthma treatment includes trigger avoidance, medication to control inflammation and bronchoconstriction, symptom recognition and management, and regular follow-up with a physician and asthma educator.      

Inflammation: the root cause of Asthma

Our understanding of asthma and its treatment has evolved significantly over the last several years.  It was once thought that asthma was a disease that came on suddenly causing life-threatening episodes of difficulty breathing.  Asthma management was directed towards treating these attacks when they occurred, without taking into consideration possible causes or effects of the disease.   Inflammation or swelling of the airways is now considered the main disease process of asthma, and the use of medications to treat this inflammation is now the mainstay of asthma treatment.  Long-term use of medication to control inflammation (inhaled steroids) controls asthma symptoms and has been shown to prevent long-term damage to the airways. 


Last updated: Wednesday, July 27, 2005