Asthma Symptoms, Diagnosis, Management & Treatment


 Asthma is a chronic disease most often manifested by seizures interspersed with periods when breathing is normal. In some people, however, asthma induces permanent respiratory discomfort interfering with daily activities.
 Asthma Summary
  • Asthma: What is it?
  • Asthma Symptoms
  • People and Risk Factors
  • Prevention of asthma
  • Treatment of asthma
  • The opinion of our doctor
  • Complementary Approaches
  • Sites of Interest and Support Groups
  • References

The asthma is a disease characterized by inflammation more or less of the respiratory tract , in the bronchi and small bronchi, bronchioles (see diagram). It results in difficulty breathing , shortness of breath, wheezing or tightness in the chest.

Asthma is often linked to an abnormal reaction of the airways to various stimuli ( allergens in the air, smoke, etc.).

The asthma crisis

The asthma attack corresponds to the sudden aggravation of the symptoms. In many people, asthma manifests itself in occasional seizures, breathing is normal outside crises.





An asthma attack often starts with a dry cough , followed by difficulty breathing , which causes a clearly audible wheeze . It is usually accompanied by expectorations of mucus (cough and sputum).

During a crisis, bronchial opening is reduced due to a significant inflammatory reaction and contraction of the bronchial wall muscles.

The seizures can be effectively quenched by drugs . However, they are potentially dangerous , especially in frail people (elderly, suffering from respiratory infections, etc.).


Since the 1960s, asthma has been steadily increasing in industrialized countries, where it is estimated that between 5% and 10% of the French population, or about 5 million people, suffer from asthma to varying degrees (6, 7% in 2009). Women appear slightly more affected than men (9.4% vs. 6.7%).

Two periods of life seem more propitious to the onset of asthma: childhood and early forties .

One in eight children (8-12% of children aged 11 and under) have asthma symptoms. This is the child’s first chronic illness. Fortunately, about half of these children will become completely asymptomatic during adolescence. They will still be at risk.


The causes of asthma are not well known, although it is known that there are both genetic and environmental risk factors.

Inflammation of the airways results in the production of thick mucus inside the bronchi , which interferes with air circulation. At the same time, the muscles around the bronchi contract, resulting in the “closure” of the bronchi (bronchospasm). This is what causes respiratory discomfort.

The asthma is associated with respiratory allergies in 80% of cases, but it is not always of allergic origin. In people with asthma, excessive bronchial sensitivity ( hyperreactivity ) is associated with one or more substances.

The following factors may help trigger an asthma attack or worsen respiratory distress, but they are not the cause of asthma.

  • Airborne allergens (dust, pollen, animal hair, dust mites).
  • Airborne pollutants (irritants in the workplace, wood smoke, exhaust, air pollution, etc.).
  • Tobacco smoke.
  • Food (food allergies ) or food additives, such as sulphites.
  • Some drugs (aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, beta-blockers).
  • Respiratory infections ( colds , bronchitis , sinusitis , etc.), as they cause local inflammation.
  • Exercise, especially if practiced outside in winter, in cold and dry weather.
  • Strong emotions (laughter, tears, anger, excitement), especially in children .


In some people, asthma attacks are rare and do not have a serious impact on everyday life. However, asthma can become more severe when seizures are frequent and symptoms , intense. In some cases, breathing difficulties and shortness of breath persist even between seizures.

Here are some signs of severe or poorly controlled asthma:

  • Symptoms at night;
  • Limitation of activities during the day;
  • The need to use inhalers several times a day or overnight;
  • Crises that require hospitalization.


Uncontrolled asthma can cause permanent symptoms . Exceptionally, it can become complicated with a respiratory distress and endanger the lives of the people who suffer from it. Every year in France, about 500 adults die from an asthma attack 66 . Most of these deaths could be prevented by good disease management.

Thus, the vast majority of people with asthma can live quite normally, provided they follow their treatment well . On the other hand, crises rarely occur suddenly without a harbinger. Learning to recognize these signs helps to act in time to reduce the severity of crises.

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