Asthma is a lung disease characterized by narrowing of the airways that causes continuing episodes or attacks of wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and cough. Factors that can trigger an asthma attack include allergens (such as pet dander, dust mites, mold, pollens and food allergies), secondhand tobacco smoke, air pollution, exercise, strong odors and cold weather. Asthma is not contagious, but anyone can have asthma at any age.
Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases in the United States, affecting more than 20 million adults and more than 6 million children. Annually, asthma accounts for 14.7 million missed school days for children and 24.5 million missed work days for adults. In Kentucky, 10.6 percent of children 11 years of age and younger, 13.6 percent of middle school students, 11.8 percent of high school students and 18.6 percent of adults have asthma. While asthma can affect anyone at any age, it is more common among blacks. In Kentucky, 13.9 percent of blacks have asthma compared to 8.2 percent of whites. Additionally, blacks are two times more likely to die from asthma-related illness than whites.
There is no known cure for asthma, but it can be controlled. People with asthma can lead full, active lives with proper education, treatment and management. The successful management of asthma includes the following four important actions:
- Visit your doctor regularly
- Use long-term controller medications and fast-acting rescue medications appropriately
- Avoid asthma triggers
- Work with your doctor to develop and use a written management and action plan
The successful management and control of a person's asthma will result in better quality of life, decreased asthma attacks, fewer visits to the emergency room, fewer hospitalizations and fewer missed school or work days.