Asthma is a respiratory condition that inflames and narrows airways, causing wheezing, shortness of breath, a tight feeling in the chest, especially during cold weather or exercise, or coughing – especially at night.
Allergens, chemicals, seasonal changes, and smoking can irritate the lungs and cause airway inflammation. Reactions vary from person to person, and are typically managed with daily medication, but a severe, rapid worsening of symptoms called an asthma attack may require immediate intervention or medical help.
Shouting, crying, laughing, rapid breathing, or panic can cause bronchial tubes to constrict, which may cause or worsen an asthma attack. As the lungs continue to tighten, breathing becomes more difficult, speaking may be impossible, and low oxygen in the blood may cause skin or lips to turn blue or even lead to unconsciousness. Knowing when, where, and how to get treatment is a critical part of living with asthma.
About 26 million Americans have some form of asthma, leading to nearly 2 million visits to emergency departments each year. The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology suggests working with an allergist, having an action plan, recognizing triggers and early warning signs of a potential asthma attack, and using a peak flow meter can reduce the number and severity of attacks.
Learn more about asthma from the American Lung Association.