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Asthma

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the airways. The inflammation of the airways is there all the time, even if the person is feeling fine.

Environmental and other factors; such as dust, pollen, pet dander, or strong smells; provoke the recurrent episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and coughing, particularly at night and in the early morning. These episodes are usually associated with variable airflow obstruction that is often reversible, either spontaneously or with treatment.

Although asthma cannot be cured, with proper management many asthmatics can prevent chronic symptoms and maintain normal activity levels.

Learn how the MDCH Asthma Program is helping people with asthma and the health professionals who care for them. View the Michigan Asthma Interventions page.

Asthma Staff

Epidemiologist: Robert Wahl
Environmental Epidemiologist
Lifecourse Epidemiology and Genomics Division
517-335-9151
wahlr@Michigan.gov

Programmatic Specialist: John Dowling
Division of Chronic Disease and Injury Control
517-335-9713
dowlingj@michigan.gov

Environmental Issues: Robert Wahl
Lifecourse Epidemiology and Genomics Division
517-335-9151
wahlr@Michigan.gov

Asthma Symptoms

We would like to thank the American Lung Association for allowing us to use the information on asthma symptoms and triggers from the ALA's Open Airways for Schools materials.

Some symptoms of asthma are:
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing
  • tightness or discomfort in your chest
  • a cough that you get over and over again.
Not all people with asthma wheeze. For children, cough alone may be the only symptom of asthma.

The basic cause of asthma is not yet known. What we do know is that asthma is not caused by emotions. In short, it is not "all in one's head."

Asthma Triggers

Asthma may be triggered by:
  • upper respiratory infections (colds)
  • cigarette smoke, wood smoke, scented products such as hair spray, cosmetics, cleaning products, strong odors from fresh paint or cooking, automobile fumes, and pollution
  • allergies to dander (that is flakes of skin) from dogs, cats, birds, or small rodents; house dust mites; pollens; and molds
  • exercise
  • emotional stress (can make symptoms worse)
  • changes in weather and/or temperature (asthma can be triggered by cold weather)

Goals of Asthma Management

Asthma cannot be cured, but it can be prevented and controlled through avoidance of triggers and appropriate use of medications. Asthma can be managed so people can have a normal life and be free from symptoms all or most of the time. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's goals of asthma management are to:
  • Prevent chronic asthma symptoms & asthma exacerbations (i.e. No sleep disruption or missed school or work due to asthma. No or minimal need for emergency department visits or hospitalizations.)
  • Maintain normal activity, including exercise & physical activities.
  • Have normal or near-normal lung function.
  • Be satisfied with the asthma care received.
  • Have no or minimal side effects while receiving optimal medications.

Emergency Signs

Call your doctor, go to the hospital or call an ambulance if: 
  • You are very short of breath; or
  • Your quick-relief medicines have not helped; or
  • You cannot do usual activities; or
  • Symptoms (cough, wheeze, chest tightness, or shortness of breath & reduced peak flow) are the same or worsen after 24 hours; or
  • Your peak flow is less than 50% of your best peak flow.
Danger signs - seek help immediately if:
  • You have trouble walking and talking due to shortness of breath
  • Your lips or fingernails are blue
Asthma is one of this nation's most common and costly diseases, affecting an estimated 17 million people. In Michigan, asthma accounts for almost 10% of all hospitalizations in children.

Additional Sources of Information

Epidemiology of Asthma in Michigan

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