How Asthma Affects Your Body
Asthma is a disease that affects the airways of your lungs. With asthma, your airways' lining tends to always be in a hypersensitive state characterized by redness and swelling (inflammation). It's similar to how your skin becomes red, irritated and sensitive after a sunburn. This hypersensitive state makes the airways react to things that you are exposed to every day, or asthma "triggers." A trigger could be the common cold, stress, changes in the weather, or things in the environment, such as dust, chemicals, smoke and pet dander. Learn more about how the air we breathe plays a role in our health.
When you experience a trigger, the insides of your airways swell even more. This narrows the space for air to move in and out of the lungs. The muscles that wrap around your airways also can tighten, making breathing even harder. When that happens, it's called an asthma flare-up, asthma episode or asthma "attack."
After an asthma flare-up, you probably will feel tired. You're also at greater risk of having another flare-up for several days after an episode. For the days following a flare-up, be sure to:
- Avoid your asthma triggers
- Monitor your symptoms or check you airways using a peak flow meter
Poor asthma management can lead to airway remodeling. Airway remodeling is a serious condition that happens when asthma is untreated or poorly managed. The lungs become scarred, asthma medicines do not work as well and less air is able to move through your airways. Airway remodeling does not have to happen. Work with a healthcare professional to minimize asthma flare-ups and find a treatment plan that works for you. Take control of your asthma!
Could I have severe asthma?
When your asthma is well-controlled, you experience very few symptoms throughout the day and night and you can perform daily activities without shortness of breath, chest tightness, coughing or wheezing. Some people have asthma that is difficult to treat or does not respond well to inhaled corticosteroids. Depending on the type of asthma that you have, there are different management steps and treatment options that can help. Learn more about severe asthma.
What Is Asthma?
Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel. Last reviewed May 27, 2018.
Page Last Updated: January 9, 2020
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