Harvard Men's Health Watch

Asthma

Some men think of asthma as "kid stuff," a childhood illness. But they're wrong: the disease strikes people of all ages. Fortunately, lifestyle adjustments and proper medication will allow most asthmatics to lead full, active lives.

Your lungs, in health and in asthma

The average man takes more than 20,000 breaths a day. With each, air travels down the windpipe, then through smaller tubes called bronchi. Finally, the air arrives at the lungs' 300 million tiny air sacs, where oxygen crosses into the blood and carbon dioxide is removed (see figure).

Asthma is a disease of the bronchi. These small tubes must be open to allow the free passage of air. But in asthma, the muscles that surround the bronchi tighten, narrowing the passages. In addition, the tissue that lines the tubes becomes inflamed, and the bronchial glands produce too much mucus, clogging the small airways and making breathing difficult.

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