Understanding Asthma


What Is Asthma?

Asthma is a common lung disease that causes repeated bouts of wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing, especially at night or in the early morning. A person with asthma has difficulty breathing because of inflammation and narrowing of the airways. When asthma symptoms suddenly become worse, it is sometimes called an asthma attack.


Asthma Is a Chronic Lung Condition

Asthma is often uncomfortable; it can feel like trying to breathe through a straw. It is a chronic condition — one that you have for your entire life. Yet, most people don't have asthma symptoms all of the time. There are times when people with asthma can breathe normally and times when symptoms are more noticeable. Asthma symptoms often vary from day to day, and even between day and night.

An interesting fact is that some people with asthma may have only one defining symptom, while others have many or all of them. Asthma is a very individual condition. Asthma symptoms are different for each person.


Written by Karen Serrano, MD

Emergency Medicine resident at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Reviewed by Lisa V. Suffian, MD

Instructor of Clinical Pediatrics in the Division of Allergy and Pulmonary Medicine at Saint Louis Children's Hospital, Washington University School of Medicine

Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital, Saint Louis University

Board certified in Allergy and Immunology

Last updated June 2008