You Are At: AllSands Home > Health > Diseases > What is asthma?
Although most people don't think of asthma as a killer, the Mayo Clinic reports 3 million people visit the emergency room every year because of the disease, and 500,000 people are hospitalized. Almost 15 million people are affected.

Most deaths are preventable, because scientists understand the disease better. There are new medicines to treat it. There are other things victims can do to be safe such as get rid of the family pet if that is necessary or wear a mask if a victim does gardening. Some people may forget to take medicine or not wear a mask when gardenting if they feel better, and that can lead to disaster.

Although scientists understand asthma better, according to an article in the June 1998 edition of Reader's Digest, they don't understand why its prevelance has nearly tripled among 18 to 44-year-olds. Twice as many people die annually from asthma as in 1979.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a person without the disease can't truly understand what it is like. As an example, someone could put a straw in his mouth, close his lips and exhale. Then imagine trying to sleep or climb stairs that way.

The disease is caused by a genetic disposition and environmental exposure. It is an inflammatory disease, which causes airway constriction, swelling and damage to the lining of airways, along with mucus secretion.

Symptoms in adults can be mild and brief coughing and wheezing, increased shortness of breath, sleep disturbed by wheezing or shortness of breath, a tight chest and increased use of as needed bronchodilators. Symptoms in children can be an increased breathing rate, audible wheezing, agitation and use of accessory muscles of respiration.

Those with asthma may have to give up stuffed pets, real pets and hard physical exercise. Especially in children, asthma can even be exercise induced, especially exercising in cold and dry climates.

Some athletes have been victims, such as Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee and NBA star Dennis Rodman, and have managed to do well with proper treatment.

Those affected may also benefit from and air conditioner, humidifer or dehumidifer in their homes.

Depending on what a person is allergic to, an attack may be triggered by a severe cold, being near a smoker, dust in the air, certain preservatives in food such as MSG and sulfites, air pollution, hairsprays, a sinus condition, molds, dander and wines. Allergy specialists have noticed that many medical schools and postgraduate residency programs provide little attention to the disease.

Because the disease isn't understood, doctors know they need to not only educate affected persons but also families about asthma. Families may know asthma can be inherited but often skips a generation and is found in relatives such as uncles, aunts and cousins.

Many of the people who have died of the disease or have been most severely affected are those who don't have proper medications or see an appropriate doctor. Many are without insurance, feel they can't finacially afford to get any help and don't look for aid.

Asthma is the number one cause of emergency room visits to pediatrician centers annually and the most common cause of school absences. In adults experts have found statistics harder to measure because of the presence of bronchitus and emphysena. Experts do believe, however, that asthma is the third or fourth leading cause of work absences and is responsible for nine million work absences a year.

Asthma affects and kills more people than most know. Not only could most deaths be prevented but successful people with the disease, such as comedian Steve Allen, Jackie-Joyner Kersee and Dennis Rodman, are proof those affected can still lead productive lives.