Asthma

Photo of an asthma inhaler.
Credit: NIAID

Asthma inhaler

Asthma is a chronic lung disease characterized by episodes of airway narrowing and obstruction, causing wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath.

Why Is the Study of Asthma a Priority for NIAID?

Asthma reduces quality of life and is a major contributing factor to missed time from school and work. Severe asthma attacks may require emergency room visits and hospitalizations, and they can be fatal. Existing asthma treatments focus on preventing or controlling disease symptoms. While treatment based on NIH guidelines is generally effective at improving asthma control, many people still experience symptoms on a regular basis and suffer from asthma attacks, which can be frightening and dangerous. NIAID and other NIH institutes studying asthma are committed to reducing the burden of this disease, which disproportionately affects minorities and families living at or below the poverty line.

How Is NIAID Addressing This Critical Topic?

NIAID supports targeted research to understand the underlying immune responses that lead to asthma. This understanding may aid the development of asthma prevention strategies and treatments to improve life for those already living with the disease. NIAID research focuses on understanding how environmental exposures interact with a person’s genetic makeup to cause immune responses that contribute to development of asthma or increase its severity.

To learn about risk factors for asthma and current prevention and treatment strategies visit the Medline Plus asthma site.

Understanding Asthma Triggers

NIAID-supported research has enhanced understanding of the factors that contribute to asthma severity. Studies have shown that reducing allergens in the home lessens asthma symptoms and have revealed links between bacterial and viral infections and asthma.

Managing Asthma Symptoms

Decreasing exposures to household allergens and implementing guidelines-based asthma therapy can reduce asthma symptoms and health care visits. NIAID-funded research also has demonstrated the benefits of adding the drug omalizumab to standard therapy.

Asthma Risk Factors and Prevention Research

Microbial exposures early in life may affect risk of later developing childhood allergies and asthma. Additional research is needed to clarify the potential roles of these exposures in asthma development, with the ultimate hope of devising strategies to prevent asthma and allergies.

Content last reviewed on April 6, 2018