Key Points about Asthma

  • Asthma is a common, but serious, respiratory condition that makes breathing difficult.
  • During an asthma attack, the bronchial pathways swell, narrow, and fill with mucus.
  • Symptoms can be triggered by an allergen, irritant, infection, exercise or stress.
  • It is important to create and adhere to a treatment plan with your doctor to minimize the short-term and long-term effects of asthma.

Overview

Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that affects over 25 million people worldwide. It occurs when bronchial pathways swell, narrow, and fill with mucus, making it difficult to breath.

The precise cause of asthma is not known. Common triggers for asthma symptoms or episodes include airborne allergens, physical activity, stress, cold air, and respiratory infections.

Because there is no cure for asthma, it is important to properly manage symptoms and medications to control the condition. Set up an appointment with your doctor if you have symptoms of asthma. Your doctor can help create a long-term plan to manage your symptoms and minimize episodes. If you are experiencing a severe asthma attack, marked by an abrupt shortness of breath and increasing difficulty breathing, seek emergency medical attention. 

Asthma causes

There are various types and causes of asthma. Common types of asthma include, but are not limited to:

  • Allergic asthma
  • Adult-onset asthma
  • Exercise induced bronchoconstriction (EIB)

An episode of asthma can be triggered by:

  • Allergens like dust mites, cockroach waste, pollens, and molds
  • Environmental Irritants to the lungs such as air pollution, smoke, and fumes
  • Extreme cold or hot, humid air
  • Medications
  • Exercise
  • Obesity
  • Stress

Asthma risk factors

You may be at an increased risk of developing asthma if you:

  • Have immediate family members with asthma
  • Are frequently exposed to certain workplace dusts, fumes, or air pollution
  • Smoke tobacco

Asthma symptoms

Common symptoms of asthma include:

  • Distressed breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Chest tightness
  • An increase or worsening of the above symptoms at night

Asthma complications

Complications from asthma can include:

  • Disruption to daily activities including work, exercise, and hobbies
  • Irreversible damage to lungs and breathing problems
  • Excessive work or school absences
  • Emotional distress/ depression
  • Side effects of medications used to treat chronic asthma
  • Frequent hospital and/or medical visits
  • Decreased overall health due to above complications

Asthma prevention

While asthma cannot be prevented, episodes can be avoided or shortened by minimizing exposure to the specific triggers that cause you to experience symptoms.

Asthma diagnosis

Your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history and may perform tests to determine if you have asthma and what type of treatment plan is best for you.

Asthma treatment

Effective treatment for asthma focuses on preventing and minimizing symptoms. Attacks can be prevented by avoiding your asthma triggers as much as possible.

Your doctor may prescribe medications to help manage your symptoms. There are two main types of medicines that treat asthma: 

  • Fast acting rescue medications, such as bronchodilators, or inhalers, which can help reduce swollen airways and restore breathing function
  • Long term medications, usually inhalers, which are taken daily to prevent attacks

When to seek care

Set up an appointment with your doctor if you:

  • Have symptoms of asthma
  • Already have an asthma diagnosis, but your symptoms are not improving with treatment

Seek emergency medical attention if you are experiencing a severe asthma attack, marked by an abrupt shortness of breath and increasing difficulty breathing.

Next Steps

Talk to your doctor about creating a long-term asthma management plan that works best for you. People with asthma should see their doctor regularly to assess the effectiveness of their current treatment, and to adjust medications as needed.