What is Asthma

How You Breathe

The purpose of the lungs is to deliver oxygen to your blood. Your heart then pumps this blood full of oxygen to other parts of the body. A steady flow of oxygen is needed by your body to work properly.

The lungs are located in your chest and sit above the stomach. There is a large muscle called the diaphragm that separates the lungs from the stomach. The diaphragm moves up and down as you breathe allowing the air to enter and exit from the lungs. It is dome shaped. Everyone’s lungs work the same taking air in and out.

When you breathe, fresh air (full of oxygen) enters through the mouth and nose. The nose cleans the air by trapping small particles from the air, adds water and controls the temperature of the air going into your lungs. The air then travels through a series of tubes (airways) which resembles the branches of a tree. The main tube is the trachea or windpipe (tree trunk). The trachea branches off into the left and right bronchi, and these tubes (airways) further break down into smaller air tubes (airways). Wrapped around the air tubes (airways) are smooth muscle bands. The tubes (airways) are hollow which allows open space for the air to freely travel through the network of tubes (airways). At the end of these tubes (airways) are air sacs (alveoli) which deliver oxygen into the blood stream and allow the stale air (full of carbon dioxide) back into the lungs which is exhaled out of the body. Each time you breathe in, the lungs get bigger (expand). When you breathe out, the lungs get smaller (contract). These words (airways, bronchioles, windpipes and air tubes) all refer to the air passages in the lungs.

How Asthma Affects the Airways

Asthma affects how the lungs work and how much oxygen is delivered to the body. Asthma is a disease of the lungs that a person can have for a long time. Asthma cannot be cured but it can be controlled.

The lungs of a person with asthma work the same way as someone who doesn’t have asthma. The only difference is that the inside lining of the airway is inflamed (swells) and this goes on all the time unless treated. The lungs are hyper-responsive (sensitive) or twitchy. The airways react to asthma triggers more intensely than in people who don’t have asthma. During an asthma episode, the lining of the airways becomes more inflamed & sensitive, thick mucus begins to gather in the airways, which makes the opening in the airways smaller. The muscles around the airways tighten, making the opening in the airways even smaller. These three events block the flow of air in the airways, making it harder for air to pass down the airways, which in turn makes it hard to breathe. The person begins to cough, wheeze and have difficulty breathing. This is an asthma episode (attack).