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Asthma (AZ-muh) is a chronic disease of the lung airways. With asthma, the airways are inflamed (swollen) and react easily to certain "triggers," like smoke or dust mites. When the inflamed airways react, they get narrow and make it hard to breathe.
Common asthma symptoms are:
- Coughing, especially at night
- Wheezing — a whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe
- Shortness of breath (feeling like you can't get enough air)
- Chest tightness, pain, or pressure
- Faster breathing or noisy breathing
When these symptoms get worse, you are having an asthma attack. You can die from a severe asthma attack.
The number of people with asthma keeps rising. When Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are counted as "Asian-Americans," their rate of asthma appears low. But surveys of Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders suggest much higher rates. For example, in Hawaii, Native Hawaiians are twice as likely to have asthma as any other ethnic group in the state. Some research suggests that Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are also more likely to die from asthma.
We don't know what causes asthma. But these factors could increase your chances of getting asthma:
- Air pollution
- Poor housing
- Lack of education
- Not being able to get to a doctor
Asthma has no cure, but it can be controlled. If you have asthma, you must take an active role in controlling it. This means seeing a doctor regularly, taking medicines your doctor gives you, and staying away from triggers that can cause an attack. Common asthma triggers include:
- Secondhand smoke
- Dust mites
- Outdoor air pollution
- Cold air
Explore other publications and websites
Asthma — Asthma is a serious, sometimes life-threatening respiratory disease that affects the quality of life for millions of Americans. Learn more on this site about the indoor and outdoor environmental factors that can cause, trigger, or worsen asthma symptoms.
Asthma (Copyright © American Lung Association) — This publication offers information about asthma including the symptoms, the different types of attacks, and more.
Tips to Remember: Asthma and Pregnancy (Copyright © American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology) — During pregnancy, mothers-to-be may feel uneasy taking medications. However, if a pregnant woman has asthma, it is doubly important that her symptoms be well-managed to protect both her health and her baby's health. The goals of asthma management and treatment during pregnancy are discussed in this brochure.
What People With Asthma Need to Know About Osteoporosis — People with asthma have a greater risk of osteoporosis. This fact sheet explains what steps people with asthma can take to prevent osteoporosis.
Connect with other organizations
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
American Lung Association
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
Indoor Air Quality Information Clearinghouse, EAP
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Information Center, NHLBI, NIH, HHS
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH
Content last updated May 18, 2010.
Resources last updated May 18, 2010.
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