Asthma is a chronic disease that involves inflammation of the lungs. Airways swell and restrict airflow in and out of the lungs, making it hard to breathe. The word asthma comes from the Greek word for "panting." People with asthma pant and wheeze because they cannot get enough air into their lungs.

Normally, when you breathe in something irritating, or you do something that causes you to need more air, like exercise, your airways relax and open. But with asthma, muscles in the airways tighten, and the lining of the air passages swells.

Asthma is the most common chronic childhood illness. About half of all cases develop before the age of 10, and many children with asthma also have allergies.

Asthma can either be allergic or non-allergic. With allergic asthma, an allergic reaction to an inhaled irritant, such as pet dander, pollen, or dust mites, triggers an attack. The immune system springs into action, but instead of helping, it causes inflammation. This is the most common form of asthma.

Non-allergic asthma does not involve the immune system. Attacks can be triggered by stress, anxiety, cold air, smoke, or a virus. Some people have symptoms only when they exercise, a condition known as exercise-induced asthma.

While there is no cure for asthma, it can be controlled. People with moderate-to-severe asthma should use conventional medications to help control symptoms. Complementary and alternative therapies, used under your doctor's supervision, may help, but should not replace conventional treatment.

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Review Date: 8/6/2015  

Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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