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If you have the long-term lung disease called asthma, you are not alone. It is estimated that you share asthma symptoms with about 25 million other Americans; about 7 million are children. It is also believed that this problem is on the increase all over the world. It has no cure; once you have asthma, you will likely always have it. Asthma is a disease that inflames and narrows the airways of your lungs, often making it difficult to breathe. People with asthma often complain that they cannot expel air. Even when you don't have asthma symptoms, even if you are feeling just fine, your lungs may still be inflamed and the symptoms can flare up at any time. The whole point of treating asthma is to keep the symptoms under control.

How Do You Know You Have It?

Everyone gets used to dealing with all kinds of bacteria or pollens in the air. Most people handle these irritants with little or no difficulty. However, people with asthma are more sensitive to these irritants. Their immune systems overreact, and the result is often inflammation of the linings of the airways. Inflammation is a defense mechanism that the body uses as protection, but trouble starts when the inflammation stays in the airways although it is no longer needed. The muscles that surround the airways tighten up, which makes the airways even narrower. In addition, glands in the airways produce thick mucus, adding to airway blockage. That brings on the symptoms of asthma. Some asthma conditions are triggered by workplace irritants, such as chemical fumes, and others result in flare-ups in cold, dry weather.

Asthma symptoms can be mild or intense, frequent or a sometime thing. They vary from person to person. Some people have infrequent attacks or have reactions only when they do something strenuous like exercising. Others have symptoms most of the time. You should see a doctor if you are bothered by any or most of thee symptoms:

* shortness of breath or coughing (which often makes sleeping difficult)
* a wheezing (common in children with asthma) or whistling sound when you exhale
* coughing/wheezing attacks that get worse if you get a cold or the flu

Signs that your asthma is getting worse include:

* increased difficulty in breathing
* symptoms that get heavier and more frequent

Although many - if not most - people with asthma have little trouble controlling this disease, some attacks can be life-threatening. Seek emergency help if your breathing problems increase rapidly.

Living with Asthma

For most asthma sufferers, this condition requires daily attention, usually including taking daily medicines to ward off any attacks or severe symptoms. Just as people with high blood pressure or diabetes may take daily medications, most people with asthma also learn a daily preventive routine. That often includes a quick-relief inhaler. This routine does bring relief. It can be done.

With today's medicines and treatments, it is possible for most people with this condition to live a normal life and lifespan and experience few or no symptoms. If you have asthma, take an active role, with the help of your doctor or other healthcare provider, in managing this chronic disease. Treat symptoms when you first notice them to prevent them from developing into a full-blown attack. Contact your doctor right away if the medication you are taking no longer seems to relieve you.

See your doctor regularly. Asthma conditions can change over time; discuss these changes with your doctor. If you learn to manage your symptoms, you can keep your asthma under control ... and keeping asthma under control is the main key to living with it.

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