By: Briana Williams
May 18, 2010

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This page was written to inform people about asthma and how it can affect people. Asthma affects more people than we know and each year the number of people diagnosed with asthma increases. Asthma has many symptoms and it is important to be aware of these symptoms. If someone suffers from asthma symptoms there are medications that one can take to help minimize their symptoms as well as decrease their chances of an asthma attack. In some cases, if asthma goes untreated it can lead to death. An asthma attack can occur when the body is exposed to an allergy or an asthma trigger. When an asthma attack occurs it effects the airways and thickens the walls of the airway, which can make it very difficult to breathe.


Our group chose respiratory diseases because this topic is very interesting. COPD, Pneumonia and asthma are common respiratory diseases that sometimes go unnoticed. These three respiratory diseases can have a negative effect on the body, especially asthma. Asthma is a serious disease, and people that are living with asthma should know how to manage their it. For those people who are unaware if they have asthma and suffer from asthma like symptoms, they should meet with a doctor.

I specifically choose asthma because I was diagnosed with asthma at age twelve. I had been suffering from asthma symptoms for about a year before I was diagnosed and had know idea that asthma was the cause of my breathing problems. Before I was diagnosed with asthma, I had a couple of asthma attacks while I was participating in sports, which lead the doctors to believe I had exercise-induced asthma, which I will cover later on. It was very scary to feel that I was not receiving a normal amount of oxygen every time I took a breath. The feeling that I had during an asthma attack made it feel like I was breathing through a straw. With proper treatment from doctors and medication on a daily basis I am now able to manage my asthma, which has taken that fear of not being able to breathe away from me.

Some of the most significant information that I found while researching this topic had to do with the cells that cause asthma. I found it very interesting that there are cells that produce inflammation in asthma, especially because I have asthma and with this information I have a better understanding of what is going on in my body. Here are a few of them:

  • Eosinophil- The major effector cell, contains chemicals that produce the reaction; their number in the lung correlates with the activity of the illness
  • Mast Cell- Releases chemicals, such as histamine, which contract bronchial smooth muscle and bring forth other cells
  • Epithelial cell- Lines the inner surface of the lung and secretes chemicals that activate other cells
  • Fibroblast- Produces ground substances and thus can cause scarring
  • Macrophage- Scavenger cell producing chemicals that amplify the inflammation
  • Neutrophil- May be active in some cases of sever, acute episodes

(Table 2.1 from Lieberman: Cells that Produce Inflammation in Asthma, Understanding Asthma, pg. 16.)


"Asthma affects 21.5 million Americans, and that number is on the rise," (Understanding Asthma.) This shows that Asthma effects more people then we know. "With a third of its sufferers under the age of 21, this lung affliction has become the most prevalent chronic disease among children and the third most prevalent in the general population, in 1997, over five thousand American died of asthma attacks," (Understanding Asthma.)

Symptoms of Asthma:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing, or noisy breathing
  • Getting short of breath
  • A tight feeling or pain in the chest

"Asthma is a condition that stays with a person for a long time," ( Baldwin: Health Matters Asthma, pg. 4.)

What causes an Asthma attack?

Many different types of things can cause an asthma attack, and i
t is important to keep in mind that someone could experience one of these symptoms listed above or all of these symptoms listed above, it just depends on the person. Some things that can trigger an asthma attack are dust mites, animals, pollen, molds, a cold or flu, cigarettes/irritants, air pollution and even exercise.

Although there are many triggers that can contribute to an asthma attack, I am only going to focus on two: Common cold and exercise.

  1. Common Cold- When a person becomes ill, sometimes they can acquire an infection of the respiratory system which is most likely to bring on an asthma attack. "In winter, eight out of ten children who go to the hospital because of asthma attacks, have a respiratory infection," (Health Matters Asthma, pg. 8.)
  2. Exercise- "Running triggers attacks in eight out of ten children with Asthma," (Health Matters Asthma, pg. 9.) Exercise Asthma is sometimes the beginning signs of asthma in young children and then as they get older they develop full blown asthma. A major cause of exercise-induced asthma is hyperventilation, and this type of asthma usually takes place during aerobic activity. Hyperventilation takes place because of rapid air flow through the bronchi. "The cooling of the airways and the evaporation of water from the airways surface occur due to hyperventilation," (Understanding Asthma, pg. 42.) The cooling and evaporation of water produce swelling, which constricts the airways.
  • Exercise also goes hand in hand with irritants because if someone is exercising outdoors, air pollution, cigarettes and other irritations can cause an asthma attack, which can make it difficult for athletes with asthma to exercise outdoors.

During an asthma attack:
During an asthma attack the broncial tubes are affected. These tubes transport oxygen in and out of the lungs. The bronchial tubes become inflamed, red and swollen which can make a person experiencing an asthma attack very uncomfortable. When an asthma attack happens the muscles that surround the airways begin to constrict which allows less air to flow in and out of the lungs. Along with the airways constricting, sometimes mucus can build up in the airways which can cause a person to wheeze or cough.

Cells from the outside of the lung can also effect the thickening of the bronchial tube walls. The cells enter the bronchial tubes where they begin to build up there, which therefore expands the diameter of the bronchial tubes. Some of these cells that build up in the tubes, produce chemicals. When someone has asthma, their cells produce more chemicals than usual, which expands the diameter of the bronchials even more than usual. (Understanding Asthma, pg. 13.)

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Asthma is treatable as long as you stay on top of your medication. An inhaler is an example of a treatment for asthma. Inhalers allow for asthma medication to go directly where it is needed, which are the airways. The medication that is found in the inhalers work in which they help relieve the muscles that surround the airway, which then allows for air to move easier through the airways. There are two types of inhalers:
  1. Reliever Inhaler- A reliever inhaler is used when a person is experiencing an asthma attack and needs quick relief. These inhalers quickly open up the airways and give relief to the constricting muscles.
  2. Preventer Inhaler- These inhalers need to be taken on a regular basis for the best results. This inhaler allows relief and keeps airways less inflamed each day as long as the medications are kept up on.
(Asthma, pg. 13.)

Case Studies:

1. Asthma Development in Athletic Children Exposed to Ozone:
This study has to do with how air pollution and other factors can contribute to asthma. Poor air quality and pollutants may be the reason why some people are developing asthma. For the first time it may be shown that the ozone may be a contributer to the cause of asthma, due to the research done at the University of Southern California. The research was done on 3500 children with no history of asthma. During a five year time span over 265 diagnoses of asthma was documented. "Children who played three or more sports in areas with high ozone concentrations were over three times as likely to develop asthma as children who did not play any sports," (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.) In conclusion, "These findings indicate that high exposure to ozone through time spent outdoors in contaminated air and increased breathing rates from physical activity might affect the development of asthma in previously healthy children," (National Institute of Environmental Health Science.)

Asthma Exacerbated by Exposure to Florida Red-Tide Toxins:
This study has to do with "Some of the most deadly and potent natural toxins that are derived from harmful algal blooms, known as red tides," (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.) Each year throughout the Gulf of Mexico, Karenia brevis causes red tides. This organism produces a toxin called brevetoxin which is highly toxic. People that have been diagnosed with asthma and are exposed to brevetoxins have a higher risk of experiencing an asthma attack. The airways usually begin to constrict because of this toxin. "Research was conducted in 97 asthmatics who visited a beach for one hour during periods with and without active algal blooms," (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.) These 97 people carried personal air monitors while they were on the beach, these monitors were then used to see how how much of the toxin they were around and breathing in while they were at the beach. After the survey was conducted the study found that all 97 subjects had trouble breathing due to the exposure of the toxin brevetoxin. "This study expands the findings of earlier work demonstrating that aerosolized brevetoxins cause asthma symptoms in recreational beach goers," (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.)


Baden, Daniel G. "Asthma Exacerbated by Exposure to Florida Red-Tide Toxins." National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Center for Marine Science Research, UNC Wilmington, (2007): n. pag. Web. 15 May 2010. <>.

Baldwin, Carol. Health Matters Asthma. Chicago, Illinois: Reed Educational & Professional Publishing, 2003. 4-14. Print.

Lieberman, Phil. Understanding Asthma. United States of America: University Press of Mississippi, 1999. 9-50. Print.

Peters, John. "Asthma Development in Athletic Children Exposed to Ozone." National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, University of Southern California School of Medicine, (2010): n. pag. Web. 15 May 2010. <>.