What is Asthma?


Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood. It is a disease that is a result of genetic and environmental conditions. There are many types of asthma including: chronic ambulatory asthma, acute severe asthma, and nocturnal asthma.  Asthma is primarily a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways in the lung. It has no known cure or primary prevention. Most patients do not die from long-term asthma and their life span does not differ from the general population. (DiPiro pg. 408)

In the United States, it is estimated that 25.7 million people have asthma (1). In California, a survey found that 13.1% of adults and 12.5% of children had been diagnosed with Asthma.(1, 3) Emergency room visits for Asthma symptoms rose by about 18% for California children ages 5-14. In the Central Valley, the ER visits were more than doubled, Sacramento rose by 48%, and Los Angeles county increased by 17%. (4)

Asthma deaths have been decreasing over the past 10 years, with a death rate of 0.14/1000 persons with asthma reported in 2009. Most asthma deaths are preventable. Ethnic minorities are more prone to have asthma. African Americans are two times as likely to be hospitalized and die from asthma than whites (3). In 2007, the estimated medical cost of asthma was $14.7 billion. Most patients are diagnosed by 5 years of age. Around 30% and 70% of children with asthma will improve or become symptom free by adulthood.

Environmental Risk Factors for Developing Asthma:

  • Socioeconomic status
  • Family size
  • Exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke in infancy and in utero
  • Allergen exposure
  • Urbanization
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection
  • Decreased exposure to common childhood infectious agents


Common Triggers for Asthma
Respiratory Infection Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), rhinovirus, influenza, parainfluenza, mycoplasma pneumonia, Chlamydia
Emotions Anxiety, stress, laughter
Exercise Cold/dry climates
Drugs/preservatives Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Naproxen (NSAIDS), Propranolol, Nadolol
Occupational Stimuli Flour dust, hay mold, spice and enzyme workers, azo dyes, plastics, rubber, and wood (formaldehyde, western cedar)

Signs & Symptoms of Asthma

Wheezing is a characteristic for asthma. However, not all wheezing is caused by asthma. Any condition that causes airway obstruction can result in wheezing. A patient may not have any signs or symptoms of asthma exacerbation at the time of examination.


Signs Symptoms
  • Wheezing
  • Dry hacking cough
  • Allergic rhinitis and/or eczema
  • shortness of breath
  • chest tightness
  • coughing (particularly at night)
1) “Asthma and Air Pollution.” Asthma and Air Pollution. Air Resources Board, n.d. Web. 11 July 2016. <http://www.arb.ca.gov/research/asthma/asthma.htm&gt;
2) DiPiro, Joseph T. Pharmacotherapy: A Pathophysiologic Approach 9e. New York: McGraw-Hill Medical, 2014. Electronic.
3) Milet Meredith, Lutzker L, Flattery J. Asthma in California: A Surveillance Report. Richmond, CA: California Department of Public Health, Environmental Health Investigations Branch, May 2013. https://www.cdph.ca.gov/programs/ohsep/Documents/Asthma_in_California2013.pdf
4) Ostrov, Barbara F. “Asthma Sending More Kids To California ERs  .” Kaiser Health News. Kaiser Family Foundation, 28 May 2015. Web. 11 July 2016. http://khn.org/news/asthma-visits-rising-among-kids-in-california-ers/