April 24, 2008 by TMO
Asthma is a chronic condition (generally associated with humans but also controversially being diagnosed in housepets such as cats) involving the respiratory system in which the airway occasionally constricts, becomes inflamed, and is lined with excessive amounts of mucus, often in response to one or more triggers. These episodes may be triggered by such things as exposure to an environmental stimulant (or allergen) such as cold air, warm air, perfume, moist air, exercise or exertion, or emotional stress. In children, the most common triggers are viral illnesses such as those that cause the common cold. This airway narrowing causes symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing. The airway constriction responds to bronchodilators. Between episodes, most patients feel well but can have mild symptoms and they may remain short of breath after exercise for longer periods of time than the unaffected individual. The symptoms of asthma, which can range from mild to life threatening, can usually be controlled with a combination of drugs and environmental changes.
Asthma is caused by a complex interaction of genetic and environmental factors that researchers do not fully understand yet. These factors can also influence how severe a personâ€™s asthma is and how well they respond to medication. As with other complex diseases, many genetic and environmental factors have been suggested as causes of asthma, but not all of them have been replicated. In addition, as researchers detangle the complex causes of asthma, it is becoming more evident that certain environmental and genetic factors may only affect asthma when combined.
The hygiene hypothesis is a theory about the cause of asthma and other allergic disease, and is supported by epidemiologic data for asthma. For example, asthma prevalence has been increasing in developed countries along with increased use of antibiotics, c-sections, and cleaning products. All of these things may negatively affect exposure to beneficial bacteria and other immune system modulators that are important during development, and thus may cause increased risk for asthma and allergy.