Let's talk about Asthma

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung condition that occurs when the immune system overreacts to an environmental trigger, causing inflammation, increased mucus production inside the airways, and tightened muscles around the airways. Most cases of asthma are diagnosed during childhood, but asthma can develop at any time.

How can asthma affect your health?

People with asthma may experience shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, coughing, or wheezing that can range in severity from mild to life-threatening. Symptoms of asthma may come and go, and certain triggers can cause them to worsen or flare up suddenly in episodes called asthma attacks. It is important for people with asthma to monitor the frequency and severity of their symptoms and regularly review their management plan with a healthcare provider. Lifestyle modifications and medications, like quick-relief inhalers and long-term asthma control medications, can help ease symptoms and reduce the frequency of asthma attacks.

What are asthma triggers?

For people with asthma, symptoms can come and go throughout life, but certain factors (called triggers) can increase the chances of an asthma attack. Triggers can vary from person to person, but common triggers include:

  • Allergies, especially to plants, mold, dust mites, and pets
  • Air pollution, such as car exhaust, factory emissions, and wildfire smoke
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Respiratory infections such as cold or flu
  • Cold, dry air
  • Chemical irritants, such as cleaning solutions, products with fragrances, and paints
  • Exercise. Vigorous physical activity may be a trigger for some, but keep in mind that exercise is still important for overall health. With some planning and help from a healthcare professional, it’s possible for people with asthma to exercise safely.

Is asthma genetic?

Genetics do play a role in asthma. This means some people may be more likely to develop asthma than others, depending on their genetics. It is actually the impact of many different genetic variants combined that can affect a person’s chances of developing asthma. Individually, each of these variants only has a small impact on a person’s genetic likelihood, but that impact can grow when many variants are considered together. 23andMe takes into account 24,244 genetic markers to estimate the likelihood of developing asthma. But keep in mind that genetics is only part of the story. 

Other factors that can impact your chances of developing asthma

It is estimated that around 12% of people in the U.S. have asthma. Besides genetics, some factors that can increase a person’s chances of developing asthma include:

  • Family history
  • Age (asthma is more common during childhood)
  • Certain health conditions (including allergies, eczema, and obesity)
  • Ethnicity (African Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Indigenous Americans are more likely to experience asthma)
  • Long-term irritant exposure, especially to smoke, pollution, and occupational chemicals

Learn more about asthma

Curious whether you have an increased likelihood of developing asthma based on your genetics? Find out more with the Asthma report (Powered by 23andMe Research), part of the 23andMe+ Premium membership. 23andMe+ Premium includes our Health + Ancestry Service plus new premium reports and features throughout the year. 

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Please note:

  • This report does not diagnose asthma and should not be used to make medical decisions.
  • The report was developed by 23andMe scientists using data and insights gathered from thousands of customers who consent to participate in our research. Reports based on 23andMe research provide an estimate of your likelihood of developing a condition based on your genetics and other factors. This report does not account for lifestyle or family history.
  • The report does not account for every possible genetic variant that could affect your likelihood of developing asthma.


References:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “2019 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) Data.” Retrieved August 22, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/asthma/nhis/2019/table2-1.htm.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Common Asthma Triggers.” Retrieved August 22, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/asthma/triggers.html.

Expert Panel Working Group of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) administered and coordinated National Asthma Education and Prevention Program Coordinating Committee (NAEPPCC). et al. (2020). “2020 Focused Updates to the Asthma Management Guidelines: A Report from the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program Coordinating Committee Expert Panel Working Group.” J Allergy Clin Immunol. 146(6):1217-1270.

Hashmi MF et al. (2022). “Asthma.” [Accessed August 22, 2022].

Mayo Clinic. “Asthma.” Retrieved August 22, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/asthma/symptoms-causes/syc-20369653.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “What Is Asthma?” Retrieved August 22, 2022, from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/asthma.

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. “Asthma.” Retrieved August 22, 2022, from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/asthma/index.cfm.

Oraka E et al. (2013). “Racial and ethnic disparities in current asthma and emergency department visits: findings from the National Health Interview Survey, 2001-2010.” J Asthma. 50(5):488-96.

Thomsen SF. (2015). “Genetics of asthma: an introduction for the clinician.” Eur Clin Respir J. 2.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. “Asthma Triggers: Gain Control.” Retrieved August 22, 2022, from https://www.epa.gov/asthma/asthma-triggers-gain-control.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. “Basic Information about the Indoor Air Quality Tribal Partners Program.” Retrieved August 22, 2022, from https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/basic-information-about-indoor-air-quality-tribal-partners-program.