Asthma is a chronic (lifelong) lung condition that often runs in families. While it’s possible to develop asthma at any age, children of asthmatic parents are at an increased risk of getting it when they’re younger.
While there are strong links between asthma and genetics, not everyone with a family history of asthma will develop this complex illness. It’s also possible to experience remission from your symptoms. Others will develop asthma later in life with no family history.
The key to asthma management is to take your recommended medications while also avoiding any known triggers as much as possible.
While you can’t change your genes, there are still steps you can take to help control your asthma — and perhaps even lower your risk of developing it as an adult.
Genetic predisposition is one of the strongest risk factors for developing asthma.
While no one is born with asthma itself, you may be born with genes that dictate whether you’ll get it as an infant or young child.
In fact, it’s estimated that children are up to 3 times more likely to develop asthma if their mothers have it, and 2.5 times more likely if their fathers do.
However, there’s no guarantee that a genetic disposition will automatically mean you get asthma.
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Even if asthma doesn’t run in your family, it’s still possible to develop this condition at some point in your lifetime.
Other possible causes and risk factors for asthma development include:
- having a personal or family history of allergies
- a history of autoimmune diseases
- having hay fever or eczema
- premature birth
- smoking or frequent exposure to cigarette smoke
- regular exposure to air pollution, gasses, and chemical fumes
- hormonal changes in women during menopause
Viral upper-respiratory infections are common causes of acute (or short-term) asthma, which usually improve after you’ve gotten over your illness. Lung infections (specifically RSV) at a younger age may also increase your risk of developing asthma as you get older.
It’s also possible to enter remission from asthma at some point in your life, only for your symptoms to return later. These are often linked to asthma triggers, which may lead to short-term or long-term symptoms depending on the severity.
Common asthma triggers
Common triggers for asthma flare-ups include:
- seasonal allergies, such as tree, grass and ragweed pollen
- upper respiratory tract infections (viruses)
- air pollution or smoke
- weather changes, particularly extreme cold and dryness
- pet dander
- chemical odors
- dust mites
- food additives — especially sulfites
- beta blocker medications, which are sometimes used for migraine and high blood pressure
It may not be possible to prevent all cases of asthma. However, you can help control your risk of developing this chronic condition later in life by:
- quitting smoking and avoiding others who smoke
- avoiding occupational hazards that expose you to airborne chemicals and fumes
- controlling stress
- losing weight (if your doctor advises you to)
- keeping your home clean
- avoiding allergens and other triggers as much as possible
Asthma occurs as a result of constriction and inflammation (swelling) of the airways. This causes reduced airflow, resulting in the following symptoms:
- tightness in the chest
- shortness of breath
- difficulty breathing
- increased mucus production
The more your asthma is controlled with medications, the fewer symptoms you should experience. However, if you continue to have asthma symptoms and rely on quick-relief inhalers, your asthma may be considered poorly controlled.
Other signs of poorly controlled asthma include:
- trouble sleeping at night
- difficulty exercising
- frequent asthma attacks
- not being able to do the activities you’d normally enjoy
It’s important to talk with your doctor right away if you’re experiencing worsening symptoms, or if your condition isn’t improving. They may modify your treatment plan to help better control your symptoms — and prevent damage to your airways.
For many people, asthma may be genetic. You’re much more likely to develop asthma if one or both of your parents has this chronic inflammatory lung disease.
Symptoms may fluctuate throughout your life, so it’s important to follow your asthma action plan as outlined by your doctor.
In other cases, asthma may be caused by environmental factors. Severe allergies, smoke exposure, and stress are all possible causes. It’s also possible to develop asthma later in adulthood due to a severe illness or hormone fluctuations.
No matter the cause, it’s important to keep track of your asthma symptoms and talk with your doctor if you aren’t noticing any improvements despite treatment.