Asthma: there are several different forms (it affects around 6% of the population of the USA) but every one who suffers from it has the same unusual sensitive and irritable air conducting passageways.
What this means is that someone who does not have this disease is not troubled by irritants in the air such as air pollution, pollens, dust particles or cigarette smoke.
When the small particles in the air enter the asthmatic's airways the sensitive bronchial passages constrict as a defence mechanism to prevent further invasion - this is called bronchospasm. The second defence is the build up of mucosa and other fluids and the production of mucous is accelerated.
Even though these defences are in place to protect the respiratory system the combination of all of these actions make breathing extremely difficult. It becomes more difficult to exhale than to inhale because when it is time to exhale the passageways often collapse before all the air is exhaled.
Coughing and wheezing develop due to excess mucous. The constriction of the bronchioles and excess mucous production occur in a few minutes as a result of the release of histamines by the body.
Medications Available Today
There are a few different classifications of asthma medications available today: relievers which are used to provide instant relief by relaxing the muscles around the airways, preventers which reduce the sensitivity of the airways to irritants and controllers which relax the muscles around the airways for up to 12 hours.
When these medications are used properly and triggers are avoided the asthmatic can lead a life relatively free of attacks unlike emphysema which there is no treatment for.
Cigarette Smoke is a Major Irritant
Because cigarette smoke can be irritating to people who have highly sensitive airways, passive smoking can trigger an acute attack.
I know people who have said that we are all breathing in so many pollutants anyway so why worry about cigarette smoke. My answer to that is that we can't do anything about pollution in the air but we can do something about cigarette smoke.
There are millions of people who live with smokers who never feel any ill effects but there are also millions of people who are the victims of passive smoking. If you are smoking around family members then you must take responsibility for the harm you may be doing to them - especially to children whose lungs are so tiny and fragile.
My mother who lived with smokers for most of her life is an asthma sufferer. Since Dad quit smoking her condition is much improved - she rarely has a full blown attack and even her bouts of wheezing are fewer than they used to be.(see "Mum's Story")