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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
  • Poverty
  • 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
  • Cockroaches
  • Pets
  • Mold
  • Cold air

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Content last updated: May 18, 2010.

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