Asthma is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Its diagnosis is usually based on the pattern of symptoms, response to therapy over time and spirometry.

It is clinically classified according to the frequency of symptoms, forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1), and peak expiratory flow rate.

Treatment of acute symptoms is usually with a short-acting broncodilator and oral corticosteroids.

In very severe cases, intravenous corticosteroids, magnesium sulfate, and hospitalization may be required.

Symptoms can be prevented by avoiding triggers, such as allergens and irritants, and by the use of inhaled corticosteroids.

Asthma is characterized by recurrent episodes of wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing.

Sputum may be produced from the lung by coughing but is often hard to bring up.

Symptoms are usually worse at night and in the early morning or in response to exercise or cold air.

Some people with asthma rarely experience symptoms, usually in response to triggers, whereas others may have marked and persistent symptoms.

Although asthma is a chronic obstructive condition, it is not considered as a part of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as this term refers specifically to combinations of diseases that are irreversible such as chronic bronchitis, and emphysema.

Unlike these diseases, the airway obstruction in asthma is usually reversible; however, if left untreated, the chronic inflammation from asthma can lead the lungs to become irreversibly obstructed due to airway remodeling. In contrast to emphysema, asthma affects the bronchi, not the alveoli.

Acute asthma exacerbation is commonly referred to as an asthma attack.

The classic symptoms are shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness.

While these are the primary symptoms of asthma, some people present primarily with coughing, and in severe cases, air motion may be significantly impaired such that no wheezing is heard.

Signs which occur during an asthma attack include the use of accessory muscles of respiration (sternocleidomastoid and scalene muscles of the neck), there may be a paradoxical pulse (a pulse that is weaker during inhalation and stronger during exhalation), and over-inflation of the chest.

The blue color of the skin and nails may occur from lack of oxygen.

Acute severe asthma, previously known as status asthmaticus, is an acute exacerbation of asthma that does not respond to standard treatments of bronchodilators and corticosteroids.

Half of the cases are due to infections with others caused by an allergen, air pollution, or insufficient or inappropriate medication use.

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