Asthma is a chronic lung disease that affects many West Virginians. It is estimated that 8.5% of West Virginians had asthma in 2009. This equals approximately 126,000 adults and 32,000 children. Not all people with asthma in West Virginia are receiving treatment according to the national guidelines. Consequently, preventable symptoms and events, like hospitalizations and death, continue to occur. Since 2000, 27 West Virginians have died each year from asthma.
The disease is characterized by recurrent respiratory symptoms such as wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, coughing, and variable airflow obstruction that is reversible spontaneously or with treatment. Symptoms may occur or worsen at night. Sixty percent or more of those with asthma also have allergies - however by recognizing and avoiding environmental triggers asthma symptoms can be almost eliminated.
Symptoms may also occur or become worse during exercise or exposure to animals with fur or feathers, household dust mites, mold, smoke (tobacco or wood burning), pollen, changes in weather, airborne chemicals, and dusts. Viral infections, strong emotions, and menses/menstrual cycle can also trigger symptoms.
Asthma sufferers sometimes experience episodic exacerbations (attacks). During an episode, it's difficult to breath; the airways in the lungs narrow and get blocked with mucus, limiting the lungs to insufficient amounts of air. During an asthma attack, symptoms can range from intermittent and manageable to severe and life-threatening.