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People with asthma suffer from a condition that makes it hard for them to breathe. Asthma differs from emphysema in that asthma is described as a reversible obstruction, that is a temporary blockage of the bronchial airways. The obstruction is caused by constriction of the muscles that surround the airways, inflammation and swelling of the airways lining, and an increase in the mucus production which blocks the passage of air.

An asthmatic individual does not have a problem breathing in (inhalation) but a difficulty in breathing out (exhalation). During inhalation, the airway opens up with the lowering of the diaphragm and the ribs moving out making the lungs bigger. The air can then move around an obstruction. In exhalation, the relaxation of the ribs and the movement of the diaphragm sliding up, prevents the air from getting around the obstruction.

Allergy is the primary cause of asthma. Chronic exposure to dust mite allergen can cause rhinitis, eczema and the bronchial hyper-reactivity characteristic of asthma. Clinical studies have further demonstrated that in both childhood and adult asthmatics, avoidance measures resulted in decreased asthmatic symptoms and a reduction in medication requirements.

Asthma is a chronic disease and its treatment requires four components: patient education, environmental control, comprehensive pharmacologic therapy, and objective measures to assess severity and monitor course of therapy.

Page last modified: 01/16/07
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