Asthma is a physical condition. It is important to know that asthma is not caused by emotional problems, although strong emotions can make your symptoms worse. When you come into contact with something to which you may be allergic — an allergen — you get asthma symptoms because your immune system reacts strongly to protect the lungs from "invaders."
Although asthma allergen triggers, such as pet dander and mold, may not really be able to harm you, your immune system behaves as though they were extremely dangerous. It overreacts to these triggers and this is what makes you cough, wheeze, produce mucus, and feel chest tightness and shortness of breath. If you have allergies, triggers may also make your eyes water and your throat itchy. In the following pages, you will look at your specific triggers, as well as ways that you can avoid them or reduce their impact.
There is still much to discover about why some people have this immune response. What's known about asthma is that many cells are involved in activating the swelling and narrowing of your airways. The main cells of the immune system are the white blood cells ( neutrophils, eosinophils, and T lymphocytes) which digest and destroy invaders. Macrophages and mast cells are other cells involved in the immune response. These cells travel through your body to reach every organ.
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