Asthma causes lung inflammation, affecting their function and a person’s ability to breathe typically. The condition may also cause symptoms in other parts of the respiratory system and body.

Asthma is a disease that involves the lungs, causing symptoms such as breathlessness and wheezing. It affects many adults in the United States and is one of the most common long-term diseases in children. Symptoms may worsen at night, in the morning, or when a trigger irritates the lungs.

This article looks at how asthma affects the lungs and other parts of the respiratory system. It discusses if asthma can cause symptoms in different parts of the body and gives tips for managing the condition.

A person speaking to a doctor-2.Share on Pinterest
Kobus Louw/Getty Images

Experts explain that asthma is a condition that involves acute, fully reversible inflammation of the airways. Often, this results from an environmental trigger. Inflammation in asthma changes the way the lungs work.

A system of airways called the bronchial tree allows gas exchange to take place in the lungs. When someone has an asthma attack, the way the muscles and fibers in the airway walls contract and relax change. Airways in the lungs constrict — which doctors call bronchoconstriction, obstructing the airflow and making breathing more difficult.

In addition, experts note that inflammatory cells cause more mucus in the bronchial tree, making it increasingly difficult to breathe typically. People with asthma may experience the following symptoms:

  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • chronic coughing
  • chest tightness or pain
  • unable to sleep due to coughing or wheezing

Over time, the reversible lung changes may become irreversible as the membranes thicken and airway remodeling occurs.

People may have a predisposition for asthma if their family has a history of allergic disease. Experts refer to this as atopy. In addition, individuals may inhale environmental triggers, such as dust mites or mold, which can relate to the development of asthma. People can also develop the condition following a viral lung infection.

In addition to the lungs, asthma may affect other parts of the respiratory system.

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI), asthma can affect the vocal cords and voice. In severe asthma, the vocal cords may close suddenly and involuntarily, leading to shortness of breath, noisy breathing, and coughing. Atypical tension in the muscles in the voice box, which is known as the larynx, can affect speech.

Similarly, asthma may also affect the throat, mouth, and nose, which can make it even more difficult for someone to breathe.

Other research indicates that other respiratory disorders can exist with asthma, including:

Asthma affects the respiratory system but can also have an effect on other parts of the body. Evidence notes that asthma can:

It may become life threatening if asthma does not respond to certain treatments. Experts advise that life threatening asthma may have the following symptoms:

  • blood pressure changes
  • confusion or coma
  • bluish-purple color of skin, which is known as cyanosis
  • irregular heartbeat
  • palpitations
  • exhaustion

Doctors may diagnose severe asthma by looking at a person’s symptoms and testing how well they breathe. During a severe asthma attack, the airways may close so much that vital organs in the body may not receive sufficient oxygen.

Read on to learn more about cardiac asthma, asthma and hypertension, and asthma and GERD.

The AAAAI notes that there is currently no cure for asthma. However, doctors can effectively treat the condition, and people can help manage it themselves. The following tips may help:

  • Medications: It is advisable for people to take medications as their doctor directs. These may include corticosteroids, long-acting beta-agonist inhalers, or other medications for flare-ups and severe symptoms.
  • Avoiding triggers: To help prevent asthma symptoms, a person can try to avoid known triggers. These may include allergens, exercise, or inhaling fumes.
  • Medical attention: If a person experiences severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing or walking, it is advisable for them to go to the hospital or emergency room and receive treatment.

Additionally, while intense exercise can trigger asthma in some people, the AAAAI notes that exercise is beneficial for the lungs. As such, those with asthma may consider consulting their doctor about what is safe. Furthermore, while animal dander can also be a trigger, some people with asthma may be able to keep pets at home if a doctor helps them manage their symptoms.

Click here to learn more about asthma treatments and asthma action plans.

Asthma causes inflammation that affects how the lungs function. The condition may also involve other parts of the respiratory system, including the nose and vocal cords. Severe, life threatening asthma can affect the heart, blood pressure, and energy levels.

Doctors treat asthma symptoms using medications. People can also manage asthma by taking steps such as avoiding asthma triggers.