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What Are the Primary Causes of Asthma?

Nancy Nathenson, RRT

June 1, 2024



What are the primary causes of asthma?


Asthma, a chronic respiratory condition characterized by inflammation and narrowing of the airways, is influenced by a complex interplay of genetic predisposition and environmental exposures. Understanding the multifaceted nature of asthma causation is crucial for effective prevention and management strategies.

Genetic Factors:

A significant portion of asthma risk is attributable to genetic factors. Individuals with a family history of allergies or asthma are more likely to develop the condition themselves. The hereditary component of asthma is substantial, with studies indicating that a child has a 25% higher likelihood of developing asthma if one parent has the condition and a 50% higher likelihood if both parents are affected. Specific genetic variations associated with asthma susceptibility have been identified, although the precise mechanisms through which these genes influence disease development are still being elucidated.

Environmental Factors:

Environmental exposures play a pivotal role in asthma development, particularly during critical periods such as pregnancy and early childhood. Maternal smoking during pregnancy, exposure to secondhand smoke, and air pollution have been implicated as significant risk factors. In utero exposure to these pollutants can adversely affect fetal lung development, predisposing the child to asthma later in life. Similarly, early childhood exposure to secondhand smoke, indoor allergens such as dust mites and pet dander, and outdoor air pollutants can exacerbate respiratory symptoms and increase the likelihood of developing asthma.

Premature birth and frequent respiratory infections during infancy can also contribute to lung damage and subsequent asthma risk. Occupational exposures to industrial dust, chemicals, and allergens represent another environmental risk factor, particularly for adults. Occupational asthma, triggered by workplace exposures, can manifest as a distinct form of the condition with its own set of diagnostic and management challenges.


This Ask the Expert is an edited excerpt from the course Understanding Asthma And Anaphylaxis In The Occupational Therapy Settingby Nancy Nathenson, RRT.



nancy nathenson

Nancy Nathenson, RRT

Nancy Nathenson is a respiratory therapist with over 35 years of experience, from ICU to rehabilitation. She delivers clinical education and training on disease management, prevention, new technologies, and patient safety to RTs and interdisciplinary teams, including nurses, therapists, EMS providers, and communities. Nancy is a Community Asthma and COPD Expert for the Allergy and Asthma Network. As a consultant, she translates research on evidence-based strategies to improve community and patient outcomes across the continuum of care, always including the important role of the family and caregiver.

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