Asthma: definitions and pathophysiology

Int Forum Allergy Rhinol. 2015 Sep:5 Suppl 1:S2-6. doi: 10.1002/alr.21609.


Background: Asthma is a common condition due to chronic inflammation of the lower respiratory tract. Chronic lower airway inflammation is known to be more common in individuals that also have inflammatory disorders of the upper airway. The scientific understanding of asthma continues to improve and it is important for providers who treat upper or lower airway inflammation to be familiar with asthma's definition and pathophysiology.

Methods: Articles were selected based on literature reviews through PubMed and personal knowledge of the author. The search selection was not standardized.

Results: Asthma is a heterogenic condition that is underdiagnosed and undertreated despite that the skills needed to diagnose it are readily attainable and effective treatments are available. Providers need a working understanding of asthma in order to be proficient at managing their patients with chronic nasal or sinus inflammation. This article provides a primer focusing on the current conception asthma in terms of definition, possible etiologies, inflammatory profile, pathophysiology, subtypes, and overlapping conditions.

Conclusion: Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disorder arising from not fully understood heterogenic gene-environment interactions. It features variable airway obstruction and bronchial hyperresponsiveness. Clinically, asthmatics exhibit recurrent episodes of wheeze, cough, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.

Keywords: asthma; definitions; epigenetics; genetics; pathophysiology; phenotypes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asthma* / etiology
  • Asthma* / immunology
  • Asthma* / physiopathology
  • Humans