What Activates Asthma Genes?

Last updated: March 2021

So, researchers now believe asthma genes cause asthma. They think most of these genes lie dormant when we are born. But, something happens during our lives that activate them or turns them on. So, what is it that activates them? What causes asthma? Here’s one theory.

What are genes?

Our bodies are made up of millions of cells. Each cell contains your DNA or genetic code. This genetic code is like a cookbook. It contains all the recipes for making you and keeping you healthy.

Each page in this cookbook is like a gene on your genetic code. Like the pages in a book, each gene contains a recipe. Cookbooks contain recipes for making foods, genes contain recipes for making proteins.

These proteins tell cells what to do.

For example, some genes tell immune cells to do something to keep us healthy. When you're exposed to respiratory viruses, for example, they tell cells to release chemicals. These chemicals cause airway inflammation. This inflammation is meant to trap and kill pathogens. This causes cold symptoms. But, it’s good in that it helps your body get you back to health.

What are asthma genes?

These are genes that tell immune cells to do something abnormal. They tell immune and airway cells to release these chemicals in response to harmless substances, such as dust mites. These chemicals cause airway inflammation, asthma, and asthma symptoms. It is not needed. It is abnormal.

Many researchers believe most of these asthma genes are not active when we are born, that they lie dormant. Something has to happen to activate them. Something has to turn them on.

What turns these asthma genes on?

Think of asthma genes like cars. They cannot operate unless they are activated. They are activated using keys. They are turned on using keys. So, asthma genes are activated when exposed to these keys.

What are the keys that turn asthma genes on?

They are called environmental triggers. These are typically considered to be your prototypical asthma triggers. They include allergens like dust mites, mold spores, animal dander, cockroach urine, and certain foods. They also include things like gastrointestinal reflux and sex hormones. They include pathogens like respiratory viruses.

Massive exposure to any of these may turn on asthma genes. You are exposed to a massive amount of dust mites all at once. This may cause allergic asthma. Chronic exposure to any of these may also turn on asthma genes. For instance, you are exposed to chemicals in the air at your work day after day after day after day.  This may cause occupational asthma.

When are asthma genes turned on? 

Interestingly, researchers believe asthma genes may be activated any time during a person's lifetime, or at any age.

When asthma genes are activated prior to puberty, it's generally referred to as early-onset asthma. The most common environmental trigger responsible for childhood-onset asthma is your common allergens, such as dust mites, pollen, cockroach urine, animal dander, and certain foods. This is mainly because most people are exposed to allergens early in life.

When asthma genes are activated after puberty, it's generally referred to as late-onset asthma. It can be caused by allergens. But, usually, it's something else.

As per our example above, it could be chronic exposure to chemicals in the air at work. It could be the development of GERD. It could be exposed to rises and falls of female hormones during puberty, menopause, or pregnancies. So, all of these may act as keys to turn asthma genes on later in life.

What to make of this? Keep in mind here that the field of genetics is a relatively new field of science.  So, there is still so much more to be learned. At the present time, this is just one of many theories explaining how one might develop asthma. But, and I think science will someday prove this to be true.

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