Facts About Asthma

What Is Asthma?

Asthma is a disease that causes severe attacks of wheezing and coughing. One of every 10 American children has asthma. Although asthma cannot always be prevented, it can be controlled with the right medicine and information.

What Causes Asthma?

We don’t always know what causes asthma. The causes of asthma are different from one person to another. The most common causes are:

  • Smoke, mainly tobacco smoke
  • Animal dander (small particles from fur, hair, feathers and skin)
  • Mold
  • Dust mites (microscopic animals that live in dust)
  • Cockroaches and their droppings
  • Viruses
  • Sulfites (chemicals used for some soft drinks and processed foods to keep them fresh)

What Are Some Signs of Asthma?

If your child has any of the following problems, he or she may have asthma:

  • Wheezing
    • Begins suddenly
    • May be worse at night or early morning
    • May get worse when exposed to cold air
    • May get worse during exercise
  • Coughing
  • Chest tightness
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Excess mucus
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Sinus problems
  • Nasal polyps (growths inside the nose)

How Does Tobacco Smoke Trigger Asthma?

When a person inhales tobacco smoke, irritating substances settle in the moist lining of the airways. These substances can cause an attack in a person who has asthma. In addition, tobacco smoke damages tiny hair-like structures in the airways called cilia. Normally, cilia sweep dust and mucus out of the airways. Tobacco smoke damages cilia so they are unable to work, allowing dust and mucus to accumulate in the airways. Smoke also causes the lungs to make more mucus than normal. As a result, even more mucus can build up in the airways, triggering an attack.

Finding Help And Support

To learn more about asthma, please contact the following agencies:

The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology – 1-800-822-2762 –

Asthma and Allergy Network / Mothers of Asthmatics – 1-800-878-4403 –

National Jewish Center’s Lung Line – 1-800-222-5864

Support for Asthmatic Youth – 516-625-5735

American Lung Association – 212-315-8700 –