Diseases & Conditions
What is asthma?
Asthma is a chronic (long-term) lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways. Asthma causes recurring periods of wheezing (a whistling sound while breathing), chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing. The coughing often occurs at night or early in the morning. Asthma cannot be cured, but its symptoms can be controlled.1
The most recent revised global estimate of asthma suggests that as many as 334 million people have asthma in 2014, and that the burden of disability is high.2
Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases in Saudi Arabia, affecting more than 6 million Saudis. About 8-14% of Saudi children have asthma, and physician-diagnosed asthma in adolescent age (16 − 18 years) is 19.6%.3
What are the causes of asthma?
The exact cause of asthma is unknown, but it is probably due to a combination of environmental and genetic factors.4
Substances that cause allergies are called allergens which can trigger asthma. If a person inhales something he is allergic to, he may experience asthma symptoms. It is best to avoid or limit contact with known allergens to decrease or prevent asthma episodes.
Who is at risk of getting asthma?
Asthma affects people of all ages, but it most often starts during childhood. Young children who often wheeze and have respiratory infections—as well as certain other risk factors—are at highest risk of developing asthma that continues beyond 6 years of age. The other risk factors include having allergies, eczema (an allergic skin condition), or parents who have asthma. Among children, more boys have asthma than girls. But among adults, more women have the disease than men. Most, but not all, people who have asthma have allergies.1
What are the signs and symptoms of asthma?
Asthma symptoms vary from person to person. Asthma symptoms, also called asthma flare-ups or asthma attacks, are often caused by allergies and exposure to allergens such as pet dander, dust mites, pollen or mold. Non-allergic triggers include smoke, pollution or cold air or changes in weather. Asthma signs and symptoms include:5
For some people, asthma signs and symptoms flare up in certain situations:5
How is asthma diagnosed?
The diagnosis of asthma by a doctor is based upon:6
Many people with asthma also have allergies, so the doctor may perform allergy testing. Treating the underlying allergic triggers for asthma will help the patient avoid asthma symptoms.
How is asthma treated and controlled?
There is no cure for asthma, but symptoms can be controlled with effective asthma treatment and management. Prevention and long-term control are key in stopping asthma attacks before they start. Patients can work with the doctors to develop an asthma action plan that gives guidance on taking medicines properly, avoiding asthma triggers (except physical activity), tracking level of asthma control, responding to worsening symptoms, and seeking emergency care when needed.
Asthma is treated with two types of medicines:7
People with asthma are at risk of developing complications from respiratory infections such as influenza and pneumonia. That is why it is important for asthma sufferers, especially adults, to get vaccinated annually.6