Ask the Expert: What is Asthma?

Ask the Expert: What is Asthma?

(KUTV) Janelle Gardiner, a Park City Medical Center Respiratory Therapist, goes over the basics of asthma and what you need to know about the chronic lung disease.

Asthma is a disease of inflammation and can be serious and life threatening. The inflammation is not visible and happens deep within the lungs. This inflammation brings on an asthma "attack," which has three major components.

  1. Inflammation causes the airway to swell. This swelling makes the airway smaller, making it more difficult for the air to pass into and out of the lungs.
  2. The airways have muscle bands around them. These muscles tighten, making the airways even more narrow. This is called bronchoconstriction or sometimes it's called bronchospasm.
  3. Airways produce more mucus. The mucus also contributes to a already narrowed airway.

Various things can trigger an asthma attack, including infections (colds, the flu or another illness); irritants like smoke and air pollution; allergens such as dust mites, pollen, molds, animal dander and food allergies; cold weather, stress and medications.

Symptoms associated with asthma attacks include wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest. But, before making an official asthma diagnosis, a doctor will likely look at a few things, including:

  • medical history to identify symptoms and triggers
  • physical examination to include listening to breathing and checking for signs of allergies
  • pulmonary function testing--a laboratory breathing test to see how well the lungs are working, asthma patients have specific values identified on a pulmonary function test
  • other possible things to aid in diagnosing asthma: chest x-ray, blood tests, skin prick tests for allergies