What is Asthma?

Asthma is a manageable chronic lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways. It affects over 6.8 million American children and is the most common chronic illness of childhood. Asthma accounts for 12.8 million lost school days annually. It is responsible for more hospitalizations than any other chronic disease. The numbers of people with asthma have been on the rise for over 25 years.

Asthma occurs due to irritable and sensitive airways in the lungs. The precise cause of this irritability is not known. We do know, however, that there are many triggers of asthma in a child. People of all ages have asthma. For some children, asthma symptoms improve as they get older but many times, asthma does not go away in adulthood.

Although it is unusual, some people can die from asthma. In 2004, 3816 Americans died from the disease. Asthma is the 3rd leading cause of hospitalizations of kids under 15. In 2005, there were approximately 679,000 emergency room visits due to asthma in those under 15. Some characteristics that place a child in a higher risk group for death from asthma are inadequate use of preventive medications prior to hospitalizations for asthma, loss of consciousness, adolescence and disregard of asthma symptoms. With proper diagnosis and medications, most asthma episodes can be prevented or stopped quickly and most deaths prevented.

With good management, a child with asthma should not wake at night with increased asthma symptoms, should be as active as other children and should not need to use an inhaler more than twice a day. Most hospital and emergency room visits can be avoided by early recognition and treatment and a call to the health care provider if treatment does not work.