Being Able to Define Asthma: Knowledge is the Most Powerful Pill in Asthma Management

Being Able to Define Asthma: Knowledge is the Most Powerful Pill in Asthma Management

Posted on August 15, 2012 by Barbara Cybart in Asthma Treatments

The definition of asthma is, “a chronic lung disorder that is marked by recurring episodes of airway obstruction (as from bronchospasm) manifested by labored breathing accompanied especially by wheezing and coughing and by a sense of constriction in the chest, and that is triggered by hyperreactivity to various stimuli (as allergens or rapid change in air temperature)”[1].

Asthma has no set pattern, no known cause, and currently no cure. Asthma is defined by a set of symptoms which include: shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, coughing and wheezing, can be mild, moderate or severe, can vary from person to person, can flare up from time to time and then not appear for long periods and can vary from one episode to the next.

When asthma symptoms occur, it signifies that the person’s flow of air is obstructed as it passes in and out of the lungs. Normally, air is inhaled through the nose and mouth and passes through the pharynx and larynx into the trachea. From the trachea, the air movie into two branching tubes leading away from the trachea: the bronchi. The bronchi continue branching until they end in alveoli. Alveoli are small sacs in which gas exchange occurs. Meaning, that oxygen passes into the blood while carbon dioxide is expelled from the blood.

Although the airways of an asthmatic are always inflamed (irritated, reddened and swollen) to some degree, during an asthma attack the linings of the airways become much more inflamed, and may produce more mucous. Or, the muscles that surround the airways become sensitive and start to twitch and tighten, causing the airways to narrow. The second set of symptoms usually occurs if the asthma attack is not immediately treated.

Asthma symptoms occur usually when the person is near a so-called “trigger”. Triggers vary from person to person and can range from pet dander to specific weather conditions.  Since, asthma can’t be cured, it is very important in symptom management, to avoid triggers whenever possible.

The medical community chooses to define asthma as “a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways”[2] affecting 2,511,890 people across Canada. For each of these 2.5 million people, an important part of treatment is to be able to know how to define asthma to be able to optimally manage symptoms and lead a healthy lifestyle.


[1]Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Accessed August 7, 2012. http://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/asthma

[2] Asthma Society of Canada. Accessed August 7, 2012 http://www.asthma.ca/adults/about/whatIsAsthma.php