Is Asthma Hereditary?
Asthma is a long-term lung condition that leads to the narrowing of the airways and inflammation. This combination causes several symptoms that can make breathing difficult. As reported by the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology in the U.S., approximately 26 million people have asthma, including both children and adults. Is asthma hereditary? Can it be passed down through genes?
Although researchers continue to study the cause of asthma, it is not fully understood why some people develop the condition. But there are theories and identifiable risk factors.
What Are the Symptoms of Asthma?
Symptoms of asthma may vary. For example, some people only have mild symptoms when they exercise or during allergy season. But others have persistent symptoms that are hard to control. In some cases, symptoms can become life threatening.
The symptoms of asthma include:
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing with or without mucus
How to Treat Asthma
The treatment for asthma varies depending on the severity of symptoms. Some people only require the use of a fast-acting inhaler occasionally, while others require different types of medications daily to control and treat symptoms. Here are some possible asthma treatments.
Fast-acting bronchodilators are medications that are taken to treat sudden symptoms, such as wheezing and chest tightness. They work by relaxing the muscles around the airways.
This classification of medications also relaxes the airway muscles to open them up, but they are slower to take effect, so they are not used to treat sudden symptoms. They are taken daily to prevent flare ups.
Inhaled steroids decrease inflammation in the airways that develop due to asthma. The inhalers are often taken as a preventative or maintenance medication to decrease the onset of sudden symptoms.
Some people who develop acute asthma symptoms may need oral steroids. Oral steroids are stronger than inhaled steroids and work faster to treat severe symptoms. Most people are only on oral steroids for a short amount of time to treat an acute exacerbation.
Reducing Asthma Triggers
One of the most important ways to treat asthma is identifying what triggers symptoms and finding ways to decrease exposure.
Is Asthma Inherited?
Although more research is needed, it appears asthma may be both an environmental and genetic component. Some people may have inherited a gene, which increases their risk of developing asthma. For instance, certain inherited genes may protect the lungs from environmental irritants. Other genes may contribute to disease processes.
People who have asthma have airways that are hypersensitive. That means they respond to environmental or other triggers excessively, leading to constriction and inflammation of the airways. Some inherited genes may make a person more prone to that hypersensitivity. It is also thought the specific inherited genes are involved in airway function and others play a role in the immune response, triggering asthma symptoms.
Asthma is also associated with allergies. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, 65% to 75% of people with asthma also have an allergy. Allergies also appear to have a genetic component. It is not yet known if the same genes that give someone a predisposition to asthma make them more likely to develop allergies as well.
Occupational asthma can be developed when irritants are inhaled on the job. Jobs at risk include construction, painting and farming.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, researchers think that there may be up to 100 genes linked to allergic asthma, but one specific gene that causes the problem most frequently has not been identified.
It is also helpful to understand that inheriting a gene that gives you a predisposition to asthma does not necessarily mean you will develop asthma symptoms. The gene may only mean you are more likely to develop the condition compared to someone who does not have the genes. There is still thought to be an environmental component that may trigger symptoms.
Other Causes of Asthma
Although there is a genetic component, there are also other potential causes of asthma. It is also believed that certain forms of asthma may be less likely due to inherited genes, such as adult onset. Here are some of the different causes and types of asthma:
- Allergies. People with allergic asthma have allergens that trigger symptoms. Individuals with this form of asthma also often have other allergies, such as hay fever.
- Nonallergic. In nonallergic asthma, allergens are not identified as the cause of asthma.
- Exercised induced. Exercise-induced asthma symptoms develop in some people when they are physically active.
- Adult onset. Many cases of asthma develop in childhood, but adult onset develops later in life.
- Occupational asthma. Occupational asthma is thought to occur due to some type of work-related exposure to an airway irritate. For example, common triggers include paint, dust and fumes.
In addition to inherited genes, other risk factors for developing asthma include:
- Smoking. Smoking increases your risk of developing asthma or making symptoms worse.
- Obesity. Children who are overweight are also at an increased risk of asthma symptoms.
- Frequent lung infections. According to the American Lung Association, respiratory infections as a child also increase your risk of asthma.
While researchers are still learning about the role of genetics in asthma, they do know that there is more than one gene associated with the development of asthma. As more research continues, the hope is identifying groups of genes may help doctors develop targeted therapies to help prevent asthma.