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Chronic Disease Affecting Your Airways

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects your airways. The airways are the tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs.

If you have asthma you are not alone. In the United States, asthma affects 14 to 15 million people. Today, 10 million adults have asthma. Asthma, also known as reactive airway disease, is defined as a chronic lung condition with:

  • Inflammation (swelling) of the airways
  • Increased sensitivity of the airways to a variety of things that make asthma worse
  • Obstruction of airflow

Swelling of the Airways

If you have asthma, the inside walls of your airways are swollen. The inflammation makes the airways very sensitive, and they tend to react strongly to things that you are allergic to or find irritating. When the airways react, they get narrower, and less air flows through to your lung tissue.


This causes  symptoms like wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), coughing, chest tightness, and trouble breathing, especially at night and in the early morning.

Asthma Control

Asthma cannot be cured, but most people with asthma can  control it so that they have few and infrequent symptoms and can live active lives.

Asthma Attack

When your asthma  symptoms become worse than usual, it is called an asthma episode or attack. During an asthma attack, muscles around the airways tighten up, making the airways narrower so less air flows through. Inflammation increases, and the airways become more swollen and even narrower. Cells in the airways may also make more mucus than usual. This extra mucus also narrows the airways. These changes make it harder to breathe.

Contact Information

Allergy and Inflammation - Research
Department of Medicine
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Center for Life Science, 9th floor
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215