Telltale signs of asthma — coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath — afflict about 25 million U.S. residents. That includes 19.2 million adults and 5.5 million youths, or roughly 8 percent of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Asthma symptoms, also known as an asthma attack, are the result of a person’s airways becoming inflamed, narrowed and mucus-laden, restricting the flow of air to and from the lungs. However, asthma can vary greatly from person to person, with differences in severity and frequency of attacks as well as what triggers those attacks. For some, it’s exposure to allergens such as dust, pollen or pet dander. Cigarette smoke, smog or the smell of paint or perfume may bring on attacks. For others, triggers may be exercise, especially in cold air, or sudden changes in the weather. Though no cure exists for asthma, which is a chronic condition, symptoms usually can be controlled, starting with avoidance of known triggers. Treatment options include quick-relief inhaled medications, which ease attack symptoms by swiftly relaxing muscles around the airways to allow better air flow, and long-term control medication, which can help prevent attacks or at least make them fewer and milder. Most asthma medicines are taken by breathing them in, via an inhaler or nebulizer, a method that gets the medication quickly to the lungs, but some medicines are taken as a pill. Working closely with your doctor on a treatment plan is advised for anyone with asthma because severe symptoms, or untreated ones, can be life-threatening. The CDC reports that asthma causes 9.8 million doctor visits each year, as well as 1.6 million trips to the ER.
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