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What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory condition of the airways and one of the most prevalent chronic conditions in Canada. Asthma can develop at any age, but is most common in childhood. As many as 1 in 5 children and 1 in 10 adults has asthma.

The airways of a person with asthma differ from someone without asthma because the airways of those with asthma become inflamed (swollen) and are extra-sensitive or twitchy (hyperresponsive). The inflammation and hyperresponsiveness cause airways to respond to a variety of triggers, such as cold air and cigarette smoke.

Every person with asthma is sensitive to different kinds of triggers. The most commonly reported factors that trigger asthma are colds and chest infections, followed by exercise or sports, pollen, flowers, grass, plants or trees, tobacco smoke, dust, cold air and pets.

arrow for more on asthma triggers, click here.

Every time you are exposed to those triggers that affect you, the smooth muscle that wraps around the airways tightens. The end result of all these changes is airway narrowing, bringing on the common symptoms of asthma: coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath. Many of the triggers you are sensitive to may also cause inflammation and increased production of mucus.

But having these symptoms doesn't necessarily mean you have asthma. A number of medical conditions, such as heart disease and other lung disorders, can cause asthma-like symptoms. The surest way to find out if your symptoms are actually due to asthma is to get an accurate diagnosis from your doctor, which will involve doing breathing tests.

Once you're sure it's asthma that's causing your symptoms, the next steps include:
Regardless of the trigger, medication is needed to reduce the inflammation. Less medication may be needed to control your asthma if triggers are avoided as much as possible.

Did you know...
  • Approximately 500 Canadians die each year as a result of asthma.
  • Asthma rates have quadrupled over the past twenty years.There are over 60,000 admissions to Canadian hospitals for the treatment of asthma.
  • Over 12,200 children under the age of 18 are hospitalized annually for asthma in Ontario. In Ontario, asthma is the leading cause of hospital admission for children.
  • In Ontario, as many as one in five children and one in ten adults has asthma.

Asthma is a serious condition. But there's good news too:
  • symptoms can usually be prevented with medications;
  • death from asthma is rare, especially if you have a good understanding of your asthma and its treatment;
  • asthma doesn't lead to either emphysema or heart disease; and
  • with the appropriate care from your doctor, you should have a normal life span.

arrow for more on asthma, visit our national site.

  Next Page

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The information presented on this web page is based on material originally produced for the Lung Association's Asthma Action program.
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by phone Call to order your Asthma Action program
Order your free copy of our Asthma Action program, complete with a 36-page Asthma Action handbook, including an Asthma Action plan and diary card, along with ten Asthma Action fact sheets, call the Lung Association's toll-free Asthma Action Helpline at 1-800-668-7682.


  Other factors
  Work with your doctor
  How to use inhalers

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May 6, 2003.
World Asthma Day

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Is your asthma under control?
5 yes/no questions.

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Asthma Action Asthma Action
Our program to help you breathe a little easier.

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Asthma Action helpline.
Staffed by certified asthma educators. Hours of operation: 8:30am to 4:30pm


When you can't BREATHE, nothing else MATTERS.
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