How Asthma Works

It is important to understand that asthma has some different components to it.  These components are inflammation, bronchoconstriction and airway hyperresponsiveness.  It is important to treat and manage each component when it comes to effective asthma care.


Inflammation in asthma is located in the breathing tubes and is even present when a person with asthma is not having an asthma attack and is breathing okay.  This underlying inflammation causes swollen airways and excess mucus which dramatically reduces the size of the airway, thus making it very difficult for air to pass through.

Medications to reduce inflammation, such as inhaled corticosteroids, are at the center of asthma treatment plans and must be taken everyday to work effectively.

Airway Hyperresponsiveness 

Physicians often refer to asthmatic airways as “twitchy” because they are terribly sensitive.  The medical term for “twitchiness” is hyperresponsiveness.

Just walking into cold air or sitting next to someone wearing strong perfume, for example, can trigger a large reaction in the airways of an asthmatic.


The airways of the lungs are hollow tubes through which air passes.  The tubes themselves have a layer of smooth muscle.  In a person with asthma, the airway smooth muscles tend to be strong and thick.

When a response of the airways is triggered, the smooth muscle constricts, squeezing the airway and thus narrowing the passage for air to flow.

Rescue medications, such as albuterol, work on this bronchoconstriction response.  They work by making the smooth muscle relax, to temporarily stop the muscle from squeezing the airway closed.